You probably don't give much thought to your backpack. It gets used, it gets
abused, and it gets shoved in the bottom of your locker or the corner of your room.
But can your backpack abuse you? The answer is yes. When a backpack isn't
used properly, it can cause back problems or even injury.
Backpacks Are Best
Backpacks can't be beat for helping you to stay organized. Multiple compartments
keep all your supplies and notes close at hand.
Backpacks are a better option than shoulder or messenger bags for
carrying books and supplies. That's because the weight of the pack is evenly
distributed across your body. The strongest muscles
in the body — the back and the abdominal muscles — support the
But backpacks that are overloaded or not used properly can make for some heavy
How Can Backpacks Cause Problems?
Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are disks
that act as natural shock absorbers. When you put a heavy weight on your shoulders
in the wrong way, the weight's force can pull you backward. To compensate, you may
bend forward at the hips or arch your back. This can cause your spine to compress
People who carry heavy backpacks sometimes lean forward. Over time this can cause
the shoulders to become rounded and the upper back to become curved. Because of the
heavy weight, there's a chance of developing shoulder, neck, and back pain.
If you wear your backpack over just one shoulder, or carry your books in a messenger
bag, you may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. You might develop
lower and upper back pain and strain your shoulders and neck. Not using a backpack
properly can lead to bad posture.
Is your backpack getting on your nerves? It might be. Tight, narrow straps that
dig into your shoulders can pinch nerves and interfere with circulation, and you might
develop tingling, numbness, and weakness in your arms and hands.
Carrying a heavy pack increases the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or
other places where the backpack puts the wearer off balance.
People who carry large packs often aren't aware of how much space the packs take
up and can hit others with their packs when turning around or moving through tight
spaces, such as the aisles of the school bus. Students also can be injured when they
trip over large packs or the packs fall on them.
Is My Backpack a Problem?
You may need to put less in your pack or carry it differently if:
you have to struggle to get your backpack on or off
you have to lean forward to carry your pack
you have back pain
If you adjust the weight or the way you carry your pack but still have back pain
or numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, talk to your doctor.
Tips for Choosing and Using Backpacks
Here are a few tips that will help make your backpack work for you, not against
Consider the construction. Before you grab that new bag off the
rack, make sure it's got two padded straps that go over your shoulders. The wider
the straps, the better. A backpack with a metal frame like the ones hikers use may
give you more support (although many lockers aren't big enough to hold this kind of
pack). Make use of another hiking tip: Look for a backpack with a waist belt, which
helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body. Backpacks with multiple
compartments can also help distribute the weight more evenly.
Carry it well. Before you load your backpack, adjust the straps
so the pack sits close to your back. If the pack bumps against your lower back
or your butt when you walk, the straps are probably too long. Always pack your backpack
with the heaviest items closest to your back. Don't drop all your stuff in the main
compartment (using the side pockets will distribute the weight more evenly). Wear
both straps over your shoulders. If your pack is really heavy and you can't get around
the number of books you need, take some of the books out of your pack and carry them
in your hands.
Try a pack with wheels. Lots of kids use these as an alternative
to backpacks, but there are guidelines and considerations to keep in mind with this
kind of pack, too. Many schools don't allow rolling packs because people can trip
over them in the halls.
Use your locker. Try not to load up on the textbooks for a full
day's classes. Make frequent locker trips to drop off heavy textbooks or extra stuff,
like gym clothes or project materials. An added benefit is that you'll get more exercise
going back and forth to your locker. Figure out the nonessentials, too. If you don't
need an item until the afternoon, why carry it around all morning?
Plan your homework. Plan ahead and spread your homework
out over the course of the week so you won't have to tote all your books home on the
Get two sets of books. If your school has extra copies of some
of your books, ask if you can borrow them so you can keep a set at home.
Limit your load. Doctors and physical
therapists recommend that people carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight
in their packs. This means that if you weigh 120 pounds, your backpack should weigh
no more than 12 to 18 pounds. Choosing a lightweight backpack can get you off to a
good start. Use your bathroom scale to weigh your backpack and get an idea of what
the proper weight for you feels like.
Pick it up properly. As with any heavy weight, you should bend
at the knees when lifting a backpack to your shoulders.
Strengthen your core. A great way to prevent back injury is to
strengthen the stabilizing muscles of your torso, including your lower back and abdominal
muscles. Weight training,
pilates, and yoga
are all activities that can be effective in strengthening these core muscles.
Following these tips is the best way to avoid back pain and other problems.