It’s back-to-school season. Parents and kids will be shopping for school supplies and one item on many lists will be a new backpack. Before heading back to school, parents and kids should know there are recommended and not recommended ways to wear and use a backpack. Improperly fit backpacks or backpacks that are too heavy can lead to poor posture. Poor posture can be a cause of low back or neck pain.
Research has shown that the daily physical stress of carrying a backpack can lead to significant forward lean of the head and trunk and changes in spinal curvature.1,2,3 A main component of this is related to the weight of the backpack, which is an aspect we can control through our actions (i.e. putting fewer items in the backpack). Another factor that changes the body’s response to carrying a backpack is placement. Carrying a backpack lower on the back can lead to more spinal flexion forward than a backpack centered in the thoracic region. However, oftentimes young children prefer to wear their backpacks lower.
Children are still growing and do not have full musculoskeletal strength developed yet. They are often going through rapid physical changes as well. These factors may increase the risk of injury in adolescent backs. Adult populations who carry heavy loads on their back (i.e. firefighters) have decreased risk of injury as they are trained for the forces their body will carry. Children are not specially trained to carry heavy backpacks, yet many do so almost daily. Fortunately there are ways we can help decrease the risk of back pain in children, including ensuring a proper fit and wear.
A backpack ideally should not exceed 10 percent of a child’s weight.3 This is challenging for many school aged children, as textbooks can weigh 3-5 lbs each, plus items like binders, folders, tablets or laptops may also be in the backpack.
Stretches to Help with Back Pain:
If your child has pain due to backpack use, contact your closest Athletico clinic and schedule a free assessment. Our experts will assess your child’s condition and provide recommendations for next steps.
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. Chansirinukor W, Wilson D, Grimmer K, Dansie B. Effects of backpacks on students: measurement of cervical and shoulder posture. Aust J Physiother. 2001; 47: 110–116
2. Orloff HA, Rapp CM. The effects of load carriage on spinal curvature and posture. Spine.
2004; 29: 1325–1329.
3. Chen YL, Mu YC. Effects of backpack load and position on body strains in male schoolchildren while walking. PLoS One. 2018;13(3):e0193648. Published 2018 Mar 21. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0193648