School Bags – How Heavy Is Too Heavy?


We hope everyone is enjoying the school holidays and the beautiful weather. As we prepare for first term next month it is timely to talk about the latest research on school Backpacks. In a recent systematic review of 69 backpack studies (Published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine) no general consensus was found that backpacks are associated with increased risk of back pain in children and adolescents. Taken on face value, this conclusion appears reassuring, especially to concerned parents, however what if the effects of backpack use are not immediately apparent? The following study quantified the effects on the spine of backpack use on a small group of children:

8 healthy children (11-13 years old) were subjected to different weighted backpacks and asked to rate their pain on a visual analog pain scale (0 for no pain and 10 for worst pain imaginable) and assessed for spinal changes using a standing MRI machine.
Backpack weights of 4, 8, and 12 Kg were all associated with pain, disc compression (reduced disc height) and spinal asymmetry (bowing of the lower spine to one side). There was more pain, disc compression and asymmetry as loads increased.

Despite the lack of consensus in the research, Warragul Chiropractic recommends educating your children about safe loading limits. Whilst moderate weights may be tolerated for short periods, this study demonstrated that even loads of 4 kg or greater cause spinal deformation. The results of this study raise concerns over repetitive overloading in the immature spine. It is known that spinal disc degeneration begins in the second decade of life. It could therefore be postulated that overloading the discs during the childhood/adolescent years interferes with normal spinal development and accelerates disc degeneration with repercussions perhaps many years later.

For further information on backpacks please visit the Australian Chiropractic Association website: