Are you getting little (or not so little) ones ready to head back to school? Alongside new classes and friends, another steadfast companion returns: the backpack. While seemingly trivial, getting the right one (and wearing it correctly) is important for their musculoskeletal health. So, we’re sharing our thoughts on all things backpack today. For those in the throes of the back-to-school rush read on…

Weighty Matters

First and foremost, let’s talk about the backpack’s weight. It’s easy for young learners to stuff everything they own into their bags (including rock collections!), but an overloaded backpack can spell trouble. Advise your kids to pack only what’s necessary to significantly alleviate the strain on their growing bodies. Experts suggest a backpack should weigh no more than 10-15% of a child’s body weight. Anything more can lead to discomfort, muscle strain, and, over time, contribute to spinal misalignment. But how do you do that? Well, aside from checking the pockets for rocks every now and again, we suggest you tell them to fill water bottles at the water bubblers once they’ve arrived at school, remind them to use their lockers instead of carrying everything all the time, purchase a lighter weight microfibre towel for school swimming days, and encourage multiple trips to the school library throughout the week rather than attempting to bring half a dozen books home in one go!

Pack Right for the Back’s Delight

Properly distributing weight within the backpack is equally crucial. Encouraging kids to use multiple compartments and place heavier items closer to the centre of the bag helps maintain balance. When worn incorrectly—say, slung over just one shoulder—the imbalance places undue stress on one side of the body, potentially leading to strained muscles and a lopsided posture. This lopsidedness, in turn, can affect spinal alignment, creating issues, like chronic backache, that might linger beyond the school years.

Ergonomic Essentials

And what – apart from a strong, quality bag that will fit everything needed should you look for when choosing a bag? We’re glad you asked…

  • Padding: Padded shoulder straps and a padded back panel can help reduce pressure points on the spine.
  • Adjustable Straps: Ensure the backpack has adjustable shoulder straps to customise the fit according to your body size and shape. Also, waist and chest straps can help distribute weight more evenly.
  • Proper Size: Opt for a backpack appropriate for your body size. A bag that’s too large or too small can strain your back and shoulders. Ideally, the backpack should not hang more than a few inches below the waist.
  • Multiple Compartments: Having multiple compartments allows for better weight distribution. This enables you to pack heavier items closer to your back, preventing unnecessary strain.
  • Lightweight Material: Choose a backpack made from lightweight materials to avoid adding unnecessary weight.

It’s What You Do with it That Counts…

Teach your kids to wear their backpack correctly – just like you teach them, then remind them, then nag them to wear sunscreen, their hat, and their seatbelts. (At least they can’t lose their seatbelt!). A backpack worn snugly against the back with both shoulder straps comfortably secured promotes better weight distribution and reduces strain. Teaching kids to adjust the straps to ensure the bag rests at the lower back, rather than sagging too low, also aids in maintaining proper spinal alignment. We recommend letting kids choose a bag, or accessories for it they like to “make it cool” so they’re not tempted to carry it badly to compensate for its “uncoolness.” It can be exhausting for parents and teachers to remind them every day, but it’s a life skill worth teaching!


The old school backpack deserves a bit of thought. Its significance extends beyond ferrying books; it directly impacts the developing spine and posture of growing children. Getting a good quality, ergonomic backpack and ensuring they know how to pack it sensibly and carry it correctly sets them on the path to better physical health for years to come, ensuring a smoother journey through their educational pursuits and beyond.

We wish you the best of luck through this crazy, back to school rush. And don’t forget we’re here to help with any injuries or aches the holidays have thrown at you. Call us on 02 9838 3030 to make an appointment with the physiotherapists at Philip Wood Physiotherapy anytime.