Backpack Safety Tips

Backpack Safety Tips
Dr. Katie Poole, PT, DPT

Did you know that how you wear and pack your backpack can have an impact on your health? According to the American Physical Therapy Association, backpacks should weigh no more than 10-15% of your body weight. So for example, if you weigh 100 pounds, your backpack should not weigh more than 10-15 pounds. Unfortunately, many of you carry backpacks much heavier than this, causing your body to have to adapt to the heavy load. You do this by arching your back, leaning forward, or leaning to the side if only one strap is used. These changes in posture can cause strain and fatigue in the muscles of the neck, shoulders, back, and abdominals, leading to possible neck, back, and shoulder pain, headaches, and tingling in the arms.

Now that you are a few months into the school year and I’m sure your backpack is getting heavier as you get more projects and homework, here are some tips for wearing your backpack correctly:

  • Proper fit. Your shoulder straps should fit comfortably and allow your arms to move freely. The bottom of the backpack should be at your waist, not sagging towards your buttocks, as this puts more pressure on your back and shoulders.
  • Use both straps. Wearing both straps helps to distribute the weight of the backpack evenly and promote symmetrical posture. Find a backpack with padded shoulder straps if possible.
  • Wear the waist strap. If your backpack has a waist strap, wear it to help distribute the load of the backpack to your pelvis.
  • Both the shoulder straps and the part of the backpack against your back should be padded.
  • Lighten the load. Take frequent trips to your locker, only carry necessary items home, and carry books in your arms if necessary.
  • Balance the load. Especially if your backpack has multiple compartments, put the heaviest items (textbooks, laptop, etc.) closest to your body.

In addition to making sure that your backpack fits and is not too heavy, it is also important to watch your posture while carrying and lifting your backpack. When picking up your backpack, your back should be straight and neutral, not rounded, and you should lift with your legs, using good squatting mechanics. If your backpack is hard to lift, it is probably too heavy.

If you have any questions about your specific backpack, how heavy it is, and your posture, call your Physical Therapist and they can help you adjust your backpack, improve your posture, and increase your strength so you stay pain free.

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