Backpack Safety

Many of us use heavily-packed backpacks for travel or during our school-years, and incorrectly fitted or packed loads can significantly increase the risk of developing shoulder, neck and back pain, as well as the risk of developing pain in later life and musculoskeletal dysfunction.

Avoiding this can be simple if your follow the basic principles below:

  • Backpacks should be as light as possible.
    • The recommendations for back pack weight are no more than 10% of lean body weight.
      • A rough rule of thumb for your child - less than 4kg for primary school children, less than 5 kg for adolescent girls and 7 kgs for adolescent boys.
    • Sometimes the contents of a backpack are necessary - when this is the case, try to distribute the weight evenly along the bottom of the pack so that weight is not carried more on one side than the other.
      • When travelling with a backpack that weighs more than 10% of lean body weight it is even more important to have a snug fit and to use the waist-supports provided.
  • Backpacks should fit well.
    • A good fit is one where the backpack sits just above the hips, fits snugly against the spine and is evenly balanced by the shoulders.
    • Smaller backpacks often 'ride high', sitting just below the shoulder blades rather than near the hips. This is fine, provided the pack is light and relatively tightly fitting, rather than swinging wildly with movement.
  • Backpacks should be supported predominantly by the hips, not the shoulders.
    • Many schoolbags and larger backpacks used for travel have waist bands - these should be used as often as possible, particularly when the pack is heavy.
  • Backpacks should be worn correctly.
    • This means using waistbands when available and avoiding carrying packs on one shoulder.

In addition, keeping your backpack in good condition is essential. If travelling with heavy packs, buy a good quality pack and replace your pack when signs of wear and tear, in particular sagging, develop.

There are a number of packs endorsed by the Australian Physiotherapy Association that are designed to protect backs.

Points for parents

Schools often have information on their schoolbags - become familiar with the correct fit of the bag and how the various straps and waistbands can be adjusted and show your child.

If your school bag does have waistbands, talk to your child about the importance of using these when the pack is heavy or needs to be carried for long distances. In addition, help your child to lift the backpack on with their legs rather than bending their spine.

Convincing a child, espeically an adolescent, to use a schoolbag correctly can be difficult, but the discussion alone is valuable. If your child plays sports, stressing the importance of protecting the spine and shoulders from injury is particularly important.

Points for travellers

Get someone to help you lift the pack onto your back. Lifting heavy packs with your back or swinging the pack around can be dangerous if done repeatedly or incorrectly. If you are alone, lift the pack with a straight back using the legs and quads.

When you have only a partially-filled pack, make sure the contents can't move around in the pack. If necessary, cushion heavy items close to your spine bay packing clothes along the front of the pack.

Use a backpack that fits you well. Backpacks can be expensive, and many younger travellers will borrow each other's backpacks. This is understandable, but try to borrow a pack from someone with a similar size. In addition, use high quality packs in good condition - not the pack your grandfather used decades ago.


References & More Information