Schoolbags And Back Pain

How heavy are our schoolbags?

There are lots of things in education that are a pain in the neck.

There are quite a few that are a pain in the shoulder and back too.

Although the Schools Minister, Nick Gibb, is a fan of textbooks, he hasn’t had to lug some of these around in his backpack. If he had then he’d know that they ‘weigh a ton’…well, not quite but they are pretty damn heavy for children and young people to carry along with their reading books and assorted other bits and pieces.

Studies have shown that the prevalence of spinal pain in schoolchildren ranges from 25% to 55% in those aged between 10 and 15 years (Aartun et al 2014, Macedo et al 2015 and Wirth et al 2012). Carrying backpacks increases the risk of back pain and possibly the risk of back pathology (Rodríguez-Oviedo et al 2012). Indeed, the prevalence of back pain in children merits public health action according to Kaplan (2013) especially when we think long term as back pain may eventually lead to time off work in adulthood, disability and decreased quality of life.

Here’s a ‘fun fact’ for the staffroom: what is the recommended total weight of a schoolbag for safe use?

Answer: it is 10% of your body weight (see Moore et al, 2007). But back pain is no fun and children are carrying far too much as their body frames just can’t take it (Farhood, 2013). The average child in the UK is carrying 15-20% of their body weight to school and back. Some are carrying 15kg or more.

As Walicka-Cupryś et al (2015) say,

Wearing a backpack heavier than 10% of one’s body weight can cause shallowing of the lumbar lordosis and a tendency towards a vertical position of the sacrum. Monitoring the weight of children’s school backpacks and enabling them to leave books and notebooks at school would probably be beneficial in reducing the daily burden put on children’s spines.

Heavy bags are a problem because they can cause spinal pain which can later develop as chronic back pain in adulthood (Wirth and Humphreys, 2015). Okay, back pain is multi-factorial but heavy bags play a significant role and younger children and females are more at risk due to relatively lower body weight.

Instead of bags some children might be better off taking all their things in a wheelbarrow.

Do your class know what problems they could be storing up? Do you weigh the schoolbags of your children?

According to Dr Sara Dockrell at Trinity College Dublin, children should be encouraged to carry schoolbags to and from school despite concerns about back pain. She says sedentary lifestyles among children are a major issue and carrying a bag should be encouraged as it is a form of exercise. She notes,

Walking to and from school while carrying a schoolbag could count as moderate activity and therefore it should be encouraged, and not discouraged. Not carrying a schoolbag could be seen to be a barrier to physical activity and may deny children the benefits of daily resistance exercise as they travel to and from school.

Dr Dockrell carried out the first national study of more than 500 children’s schoolbags in Ireland revealed the following:


The proportion of pupils carrying a schoolbag

The average weight of a schoolbag


The mean bodyweight a schoolbag represented

10 minutes

The average duration a child carried a schoolbag


The proportion of children using backpacks as schoolbags


The proportion of children using both straps


The prevalence of “musculoskeletal discomfort” – such as back or shoulder pain – experienced by children before the carried their bag

In her report, Dr Dockrell notes,

There is little documented evidence that children or their parents have ever received information or advice about schoolbag carriage. An awareness of basic ergonomic principles, and advice on best practice for schoolbag lifting and carrying should be provided to children, parents and teachers. There is a need for ongoing school-based strategies that aim to disseminate information using existing or novel ways of communication.


See the tips and advice from The British Chiropractic Association.


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: