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Backpacks should ease your load, not make it worse.

Reviewed 8/27/2021

Backpack basics

Backpacks should ease your load, not make it worse.

When is a backpack too heavy? It shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of a student’s weight.

Start packing.

Pack for class with the back in mind.

A school backpack should make it easier, not more painful, for a student to carry a load. Backpacks that are too heavy or worn incorrectly can injure muscles and joints. Select for tips on choosing, wearing and packing a backpack.

Backpack contents

  • The heaviest items should be packed low and close to the center of the back.
  • A student shouldn’t carry more than 10 percent if his or her total body weight in a backpack.
  • Use all the compartments of a backpack to help distribute weight evenly.

The backpack

  • The pack should have 2 padded shoulder straps. Single straps—or slinging just 1 strap over a shoulder—can’t distribute weight evenly and may cause muscle strain.
  • The shoulder straps should be wide, not narrow. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders, causing pain and cutting off circulation.
  • The straps should be tightened so the backpack sits close to the body and about 2 inches above the waist.
  • A rolling backpack may be a good choice for students with an especially heavy load.

Sack smarts

  • How to wear with care
  • Bend at the knees when lifting a backpack.
  • Make use of school lockers to store unneeded items.
  • Bring only the items needed for the day.
  • Don’t ignore discomfort. If the backpack is causing back or shoulder pain, talk to a doctor.

Sources: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons; American Academy of Pediatrics; American Occupational Therapy Association

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The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.