Backpacks – How To Avoid Long-Term Spinal Damage

Backpacks – How To Avoid Long-Term Spinal Damage

School children are risking long-term spinal injury from poorly designed, badly fitted and overloaded school backpacks. According to a survey conducted by the Chiropractors? Association of Australia in 2002, an astonishing 94% of backpacks are not correctly worn.

Almost 70% of the students surveyed were carrying more than 10% of their own body weight. Furthermore, the majority of students admitted that they rarely connect the waist straps on their packs to support the load evenly. This can be incredibly damaging to young, growing spines and may cause severe back and neck problems later in life.

Recent studies have shown that 10 – 30% of healthy children experience back pain, especially lower back pain, by their teenage years. There is mounting evidence that school backpacks used and packed incorrectly are contributing to this alarming statistic. The old adage, ?As the twig bends, so grows the tree? is one that all parents and teachers should be mindful of.

Current research suggests that children should not carry loads of more than 10 – 15% of their body weight to maintain normal postural alignment. And as we all know, poor posture is one of the quickest ways to develop long-term spinal problems.

International research also revealed that overloaded backpacks can inhibit lung function in children.

Repeated spirometry readings in 43 primary school children under different backpack loads (ranging from no load to 30% of body weight) showed a significant decrease in lung volume for loads of 20% body weight and higher.

The evidence would suggest that reducing the load to 10% of body weight and fitting backpacks properly is enough to maintain normal posture and lung function in children.

Choosing The ‘Right’ Backpack

Backpacks should have broad, adjustable shoulder straps that distribute weight evenly across the shoulders. They should also feature waist straps that distribute weight evenly across the hips and hold the backpack firmly to the spine.

The backpack must be no heavier than 10 to 15% of the child?s body weight and no wider than their chest. All heavy items should be packed at the bottom of the backpack, in a central location close to the spine.

The Chiropak by Spartan is the only school backpack endorsed by the CAA(Vic), with some royalties from their sale going towards spinal health research (see

These backpacks can be purchased from the clinic.


  • Make sure the backpack is sturdy & appropriately sized – no wider than the child?s chest
  • Put comfort & fit at the top of the priority list rather than good looks
  • Choose a pack with broad, padded shoulder straps
  • Use both shoulder straps ? never sling the pack over one shoulder
  • Use the waist straps attached ? they?re there for a very good reason!
  • Don?t wear the backpack any lower than the hollow of the lower back
  • Don?t overload the backpack ? avoid carrying unnecessary items
  • Place all heavy items at the base of the pack close to the spine
  • Bend at the knees when picking up the backpack