Backpacks = Back Pain?

Now that school is in full swing, a common complaint has arisen: the dreaded back pain! (This could be low to mid back pain, thoracic back pain, or cervical/neck pain.) Are backpacks to blame?  Excessive weight or improper wearing of the backpack could cause pain.  Research is still inconclusive, but it indicates that backpacks contribute to all kinds of back, neck, and shoulder pains.  For children, the real question is: Can permanent damage be avoided in the future by taking the correct action now?  My experience has shown me that injury (even in a young age) causes a higher propensity for injury, degeneration, and pain later in life.


Taking care of your back is an important habit to develop for all ages. Back pain is the number one cause of orthopaedic disability.  These simple tips for carrying backpacks can keep our spines healthy now and as we age.

Tips to Avoid Backpack Related Pain:

  • Use two straps instead of one. Keeping the load equal and symmetrical is important to avoid excessive rotational and compression forces which can cause undue stress and pain.
  • Use a backpack with wheels. If you have to carry heavy books or supplies, opt for a backpack on wheels. This eliminates carrying a load which is too heavy and could cause you grief.
  • Make sure the weight is appropriate for your child or yourself. If you’re a strong and fit person or an older teenager, a twenty pound backpack may not be an issue for you. However, if your child is in elementary school or has orthopaedic related issues, twenty pounds may be too much for your child’s body to reasonably handle.
  • Remember, loads and compression forces add up. Limit the amount of time you are wearing the backpack. Take it off unless you are actually walking or moving. If you’re standing to visit for a while, then take the backpack off.
  • Use larger shoulder straps and a waist strap. Properly fitting straps can help distribute the load more evenly.
  • Only carry what you have to. Many times, we carry more items than we really need to. Carry only what you need, and be efficient in the way you pack your backpack.
  • Go digital. Many books can now be found in a digital format. Consolidate your larger text books into a smaller, lighter digital book reader like a Nook, Kindle, or iPad.

If you are already experiencing low back pain, please review My Top 7 Tips to Prevent Low Back Pain When Traveling for helpful exercises. For a comprehensive look at back pain management, I recommend Robin McKenzie’s Treat Your Own Back.

If you are experiencing mid back or neck pain, sign up to receive my weekly blog posts via e-mail, and I will share with you My Top 8 Stretches to Eliminate Neck, Upper Back, and Shoulder Pain.

What are your tips and tricks to avoid overloading backpacks? Feel free to leave your comments below.

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