10 Tips for Preventing Pain From Wearing Your Backpack

Backpacks are supposed to alleviate pain, not create it. But when worn incorrectly, they can cause you or your child to adopt postures that may give rise to spine problems. As 90 percent of students wear backpacks, a little knowledge on the relationship between backpacks and back pain may be in order. Here are 10 tips on how to reduce or avoid back pain for kids (and adults) who wear backpacks.

1

Observe Your Child's Spine

Mature doctor touching back of teenager
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Heavy packs may cause kids to change their spinal position to accommodate the load. This can result in back pain, and worse, the possibility of temporarily compressed discs and posture problems.

Studies show that backpack wearers tend to begin adapting their posture once the weight of the pack reaches about 26 pounds. At an estimated 20 percent of the child’s weight, a backpack load may even begin to interfere with breathing.

And finally, if your child is small for her or his age or has experienced back pain in the past, talk to your doctor about exercises that may strengthen the upper back. By having the right backpack and using it correctly, your child may be able to reduce current pain and avoid it in the future.

2

Lessen the Load in the Backpack

Mother and daughter walking to school.
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Most kids carry between 10 percent and 22 percent of their body weight in their backpacks. But research shows that heavy loads may cause spinal discs to compress. A 2017 study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics confirmed that a child should carry no more than ten to fifteen percent of their body weight in their back pain.

For a larger child, the percentage amount is even smaller. The authors of the same study recommend carrying 1/3 less weight in their packs than children of healthy weight.

3

Carry Only What Is Necessary

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Help your child manage the amount of heavy items she carries in her pack. Encourage her to stop at her locker and switch books out frequently. Consider purchasing a second set of textbooks to keep at home.

4

Organize the Backpack Properly

A 10 years old girl preparing to go to school
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When you carry anything out away from your body, it takes more effort, and places stress on your joints and muscles.

A good strategy is to put the heaviest items on the inside of the pack, close to your back. Carry the little things, like calculators, pens, and loose paper toward the outside.

Also, backpacks come with a number of features to make it easier to carry heavy loads. One great item is a rolling backpack. Transporting heavy items like a backpack is a breeze when wheels are involved—just make sure the school allows them.

5

Get a Backpack With Padded Shoulder Straps

Mother holding daughter's hand waiting for the bus
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Many people complain about neck and shoulder pain when they wear a heavy backpack.

If this describes you, padded shoulder straps may be just the feature you’re looking for. The padded shoulder straps are generally wider than the more basic type and may help even out the distribution of the pack's weight. This, along with the cushioning provided by the padding, may help to avoid pinching of the trapezius muscle so common with the basic type of strap.

6

Use Both Straps When You Wear a Backpack

Three students walking down hallway with backpacks
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Whether it’s fashion or convenience that propels your child to sling his pack over one shoulder, know that such a practice can contribute to the development of poor posture habits. It can also cause one-sided pain.

7

Center the Backpack Load

Rear View Of Girl Carrying Backpack While Standing At Forest
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Studies show that loads of 18 pounds or more may create a temporary side-to-side curve in the spine. You can help your child by placing items so there is equal weight on either side of the pack.

8

Tighten the Straps of the Backpack

Rear View Of Schoolboy Carrying Backpack While Standing On Road
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One thing that can make backpacks seem heavy and cumbersome is keeping the shoulder straps loose. Loose straps may lead to a shifting of the pack's contents when you move. And in turn, this may cause muscles to work harder than necessary.

But by cinching the straps to fit your frame, you can secure the pack and its contents. Balancing the load should be easier this way.

9

Wear a Waist Belt

Young girl walking
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Some packs come with waist belts. Waist belts take a portion of the load off the shoulders. By supporting some of the weight lower down, where the mechanical advantage is better, you may decrease neck pain and back pain above the waist.

10

Ask Your Child if She Has Back Pain

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Encourage your kid to tell you about her aches and pains. Most of the time, the pain will be attributable to the pack. But there is the chance that the back pain is a symptom of an underlying condition or disease.

Back pain during childhood increases the risk for back pain during adulthood. If adjusting the weight (and its distribution) of the pack and counseling your child on managing the load during the day doesn’t alleviate their back pain, see a doctor.

Also, explain to your child that ignoring pain in her back or shoulders could lead to injury. Tell her to let you know right away if she experiences any discomfort.

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