How are backpack loads really affecting your children?

Lifecare Cottesloe.

One of the joys I get from treating children and adolescence in physiotherapy is finding out what their goals and aspirations are when they are older.

Their futures are so bright and boundless.

I love the creativeness and imagination they have when I hear what role they will have in this world.

Despite the advancements in technology, you would think that the weight of their school books would be replaced by tablets and laptops. Instead, what I find common in a typical schoolbag are piles of books loaded on top of laptops, tablets, sports gear, etc.

Not to mention the way in which they are carried.

Did you know that a child’s backpack should not weigh more than 15% of their bodyweight?

That is the rule of thumb and yet come exam time or end of sport season, children are visiting the clinic with musculoskeletal pains eerily identical to an adult’s presentation.

A 2002 South Australian clinical trial published in the Journal of Musculoskeletal Disorders explored the posture response to backpack loading in adolescence aged from 12 to 18 years.

It showed a clear difference between standing postures loaded with a backpack against those unloaded.

It found that regardless of where the backpack was positioned it resulted in a horizontal displacement of the participants, irrespective of age and gender with the largest forward movement produced at T7 (mid back).

This is to counteract the heavy weight of the back pack that can pull a child backward.

Furthermore, in 2010, a study explored the impact of these loads on the lumbar spine on MRI.

It found significant changes in lumbar disc height or curvature when the child was instantly loaded with a backpack.

Yet children are exposed to these changes on a daily basis.

There were several limitations to these studies but what it does highlight is that we need to think about what kind of future we want to set these children up with.

Their physical well-being is just as valuable as the education they receive in these prime years.

The things we can do to improve your child’s spinal and musculoskeletal health include:

Starting these good habits now can ensure a happy and healthy spine for your child when they enter adulthood and the inevitable work force.

If you have had your child complain of pain from their back pack, come and see us! You can book an appointment at your local Lifecare clinic.


1. Grimmer K, Dansie B, Milanese S, Pirunsan U, Trott P. (2002). Adolescent standing postural response to backpack loads: a randomised controlled experimental study. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders. 3(10). 2. Brackley HM, Stevenson JM, Selinger JC. (2009). Effect of backpack load placement on posture and spinal curvature in prepubescent children Work. 32(3):351-60.