How back to school backpacks can lead to long-term back pain

We want to ensure our youngsters don't suffer back pain because of the wrong backpacks.

We want to ensure our youngsters don't suffer back pain because of the wrong backpacks. - Credit: Louise North

With the start of the new school term just around the corner, our youngsters will once again find themselves laden down with textbooks and gym kits as they struggle to get in, but are they inadvertently causing themselves irrevocable back injuries which will impact for years to come?

Louise North, osteopath at The Osteopathic Centre in Welwyn Garden City, has a masters degree in paediatric osteopathy, and believes choosing the right backpacks for our children is essential.

"It’s that time of year again when the holidays are coming to an end and the panic to get all the uniform, shoes and back to school items begins ready for term to start.

"You may have taken the children to Clarks to get their feet measured for new shoes, rushed into Sainsbury's or dashed around town looking for last minute items. As parents we give a lot of consideration to the shoes our children wear and the correct fit, the clothing, but when it comes to backpacks or bags have you thought about what might be best for your child?"

Primary and secondary school aged children are now carrying more items than ever including books, lunchboxes, and PE kit bags, with many starting to struggle with musculoskeletal aches and pains adapting to these new demands.

Louise explained: "Ideally for children of school age the backpack weight limit should be 10-15 per cent of the child’s bodyweight.

"If the backpack weighs more it will become too heavy to maintain a straight standing posture and the child may end up leaning forward affecting the natural curve in the lower back.

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"This can place unwanted stress and strain on muscles, ligaments and joints from the neck, shoulders, back and into the hips and legs.

"If you are shopping in town this week picking up backpacks for school or have ones at home, you want to check fit - here are some tips for consideration when buying a backpack for your child and ideally how it should be worn."

Adjustable straps on both shoulders

Try to find a backpack with wide padded straps to distribute the load over the shoulders evenly. Encourage children to wear both straps not just one side, which can cause muscular or postural imbalances. Straps should be adjustable.

It is easy for many children to carry their backpack slung over one shoulder, but even adjusting which side you carry it on, you are keeping your body off balance and will most likely experience pain at
some point as your body tries to compensate.

Correct size and fit

The backpack should fit snugly to the child’s body, holding the bottom of the backpack approximately 2 inches above the waist and keeping the top below the base of the skull.

The backpack should not be too low near the buttocks. If you are unable to achieve this position the backpack may be too long and you will need to look for one made for a shorter torso. Children’s back packs come in many different shapes and sizes. Waist straps can sometimes add extra support to transfer load to the hips and prevent slouching.

If your child is wearing a backpack too low on the back it may increase pressure onto the shoulders and the lower back. This can sometimes happen when you have been loosening the straps to make it easier to put the backpack on and off.

Don’t overload
Try to place the heaviest items centrally closest to the child in the middle of the back. Start off with a lightweight backpack or material type – you don’t want it heavy before you even begin to fill it up.

A padded back

This will increase comfort on the child’s back but also prevent any objects poking or pressing through
the bag.

Multiple compartments

These can help spread the weight throughout the backpack, again helping distribute the load and prevent items from moving and sliding around.

Louise added: "By wearing a backpack correctly, it can help reduce risk of developing musculoskeletal aches and pains in our school age children."

If you would like further advice or information contact Louise on or call the practice on 01707 327135.