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Backpacks should ease your load, not make it worse.

Reviewed 8/1/2022

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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This information is provided for educational purposes only. Individuals should always consult with their healthcare providers regarding medical care or treatment, as recommendations, services or resources are not a substitute for the advice or recommendation of an individual's physician or healthcare provider. Services or treatment options may not be covered under an individual's particular health plan.