10 Tips for School Bag Safety

Have you ever worried about your child’s schoolbag and how heavy it is? Or maybe you’re in the market for a new school bag, but not sure which provides the best back support for your child? Here David Fitzgerald from Dublin Physiotherapy shares his 10 tips for school bag safety.

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Back to school time is a good time to think about schoolbag safety and your child’s long-term musculoskeletal welfare.

One of the most important factors to bear in mind about that schoolbag safety is the duration for which the bag will be carried. A couple of minutes from schoolyard to classroom would be unlikely to cause harm, even if heavily loaded, whereas 20 minutes with 20% more than the recommended load with increased the risk factor substantially.

Recommended Weight Tolerance

The recommended weight tolerance should be no more than 15% of your child’s body weight.

This can be calculated simply by

  1. Measuring child’s body weight
  2. Measuring child’s and schoolbag weight
  3. Subtract 1 from 2 to get the bag weight (alternatively weigh the bag separately)
  4. Calculate the percentage by dividing the bag weight by the child’s weight and multiply the answer by 100

Example: Child weight 100 lbs, bag weight 20 lbs, 20/100 = 0.2 X 100 = 20% (so the bag is 5% over weight)

10 Tips for Schoolbag Safety

There are several aspects of bag design which help to distribute and absorb load and thereby minimize musculoskeletal stress. The following is a list of things to lookout for when selecting and using a backpack or bag.

7 Best School Bags Recommended by parents#1. Make sure the bag has broad straps

Broad straps distribute the pressure across the shoulders more evenly. This reduces the chances of compressing the muscles joining the neck and shoulder and irritating the nerves which are located in this area.

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#2. Look for padded straps

Padded straps at least in the contact points around shoulders will help with load distribution and minimize the risks outlined above.

#3. Check the size

The schoolbag should be sized relative to the torso of a child. An easy visual assessment would see the bag located between the base of the neck and above the waistline. The actual capacity of the bag (measured in liters) can vary quite considerably depending on the number of pockets or chambers included.

#4. Middle or side compartments are better

Compartments located in the middle or sides of the bag are generally better than ones added onto the back. In general the deeper the bag from front to back the bigger the leverage on the spine and more muscle work would be required to balance the load.

Boy with School Bag#5. Is there a body strap around the base?

A body strap around base of the bag is ideal but less commonly found on most schoolbags. This helps by providing another point of attachment onto the body and also helps to anchor the bag in position thereby reducing muscle effort required to stabilize the bag.

#6. Filling the bag up

Place the heaviest items / books closest to the child’s back to reduce leverage on the spine.

#7. Pack bag contents tightly

Try to pack bag contents tightly to minimize movement within the back. This helps to reduce unexpected pressure and a change of bag position on the back.

#8. Use both shoulder straps

To ensure even weight distribution make sure that both shoulder straps are used to distribute the weight evenly.

#9. Tighten the shoulder straps

Make sure the shoulder straps are sufficiently tight to prevent bag hanging away from the spine. This creates longer leverage and requires more counteracting muscle work.

#10. Planning bag load

It is worthwhile purchasing a bag which has compartments which can be used to store items which need quick and easy access to ie pens, pencils sharpeners, rulers, lunch box etc. This prevents constant rummaging through the bag.

You may also like 5 Best Lunchboxes recommended by parents

And Finally

One final note is that if you see your child incline forwards to counterbalance the bag then that’s a sign that they are unable to manage the weight even if it falls within the recommended guidelines.

Unfortunately, some factors are outside parental control regarding the number of books required, storage and transport so it may not always be possible to conform to the ideal.

I hope this article provided some useful information to allow you make informed decisions regarding schoolbag safety for your child. If in doubt, your nearest Chartered Physiotherapist will be able to advise you.

Check out our blog at Dublin Physiotherapy Clinic for regular postings and useful tips on musculoskeletal health matters.

Check out our Back to School section for lots more great ideas.

Do you worry about your child’s heavy schoolbag?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below

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Jill is one of the co-founders of Mykidstime and a mum of 2 girls


  1. jenniferb jenniferb says:

    I think the move towards work books from copy books,in Primary has also caused heavier bags. Interesting point re strap at bottom of bag, but as you rightly point out, most school bags don’t have these 🙁

    1. david fitzgerald says:

      And would kids use them if they were there?

  2. Sandra Creevey says:

    Unfortunately its not up to parents how many books the kids have to carry, their bags wouldn’t be so heavy if they didn’t have to bring so many books home for homework etc. The weight of their bags in secondary school is unbelievable. My 13 yr old son who is big and strong can just about manage his some days, I dread to think how my tiny daughter will manage next year when she goes into 1st year! She physically couldn’t lift his bag off the floor yesterday.

  3. Jill Holtz says:

    I agree with you Sandra. Schools really should have lockers especially for secondary, to save them having to carry everything too and fro. Makes the debate about iPads for schools an interesting one too!

  4. Anonymous says:

    I’d love to see regulations brought in our the schools/teacher’s educated about this. For convenience my daughter goes to a nearby school so she can walk, but I end up having to drive her sometimes because of the weight of her school bag!
    For one subject they now have a book, copy, workbook and sometimes a hard back! For one subject she sometimes has to bring 3 of theses home!
    Everyday she comes home with a sore back, I have spoken to the school but no joy there 🙁