Is my backpack hurting my back?
Dr. Adam M Cramer, PT, DPT
It is that time of the year again and millions of school aged children and adults are back at school. Overloaded backpacks and heavy textbooks come right along with them. Children and adults carrying backpacks may seem harmless but when they’re overloaded and carried consistently throughout the day, week and year then this has the potential to increase the risk for injury involving their neck and low back. This can result in disability and inability to participate in home, school and recreational activities. Over time this could lead to long-term disabilities later in life if not corrected quickly. An overloaded backpack can result in abnormal posture. These excessive forces placed on the spine and the surrounding muscular structures which exceed their normal strength capacity could result in injury and disability.
A backpack should not weigh more than 15% of a child’s total body weight. For example, a child weighing 90 pounds should not be carrying a backpack that weighs more than 13.5 pounds. A child weighing 150 pounds should not carry a pack weighing more than 22.5 pounds and no one should carry a backpack that weighs more than 25 pounds1.
Symptoms of an overloaded backpack do not only occur in the spine but also in the face, hands, arms, shoulders, hips, knees and feet. This can be attributed to a backpack that weighs too much and is placed on the body altering normal gait (walking pattern). When the body changes it’s posture and it tries to overcome this new change of weight which forces the body into abnormal positions for extended periods of time resulting in a high risk for injury to the entire body2.
Parents and children can avoid problems associated with an overloaded backpack by recognizing these warning signs that a backpack could be too heavy:
change in posture when wearing the backpack;
struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack;
pain when wearing the backpack;
tingling or numbness in arms and legs when wearing or soon after taking off a backpack; or
red marks on the shoulders.
What to do if a backpack is too heavy?:
lighten the load, backpack should only be 15% of the individuals total body weight1;
Make sure it is worn and positioned properly:
Both straps should be worn with the backpack resting on the mid back not on the low back.
What type of backpack should I get?
One that has padded straps and is ergonomically designed to conform to the upper and mid back of the individual.
It should be lightweight when empty with multiple pockets and compartments to evenly disperse the weight of its contents.
What if my child or myself has pain when carrying a backpack?
seek the attention of a licensed doctor of physical therapy for an evaluation of your posture and positioning so it can be corrected naturally and quickly;
Instead of using a backpack use a school bag that has rollers and a handle so it can be pulled.
Leave out any items you do not absolutely need for that day, such as laptops or other electronic devices, extra books or notepads.
Bring only important items that is needed for that night’s homework.
Backpacks that are not worn correctly and weigh too much are not healthy for anyone and this is especially true for children who are still growing and developing. To see if you or your child are at risk for injury or if you have sustained an injury from postural changes due to a overloaded backpack please contact the licensed Doctors of Physical Therapy at MyoFit Clinic who are experts on this topic and can get you Moving Forward and back to school fast!
Dr. Adam M Cramer, PT, DPT is a licensed physical therapist and the owner of MyoFit Clinic in Middlefield, Ohio.
1. Avantika R, Shalini A. Back Problems Due To Heavy Backpacks in School Children. Journal Of Humanities And Social Science. Volume 10. June, 2013. 1-5.
2. Cottalorda, J., Abderrehmane, Diop, Mountaga, Gautheron,V., Ebermeyer, E., Belli, A., Influence of school bag carrying on gait kinetics. Journal of Pediatric Orthopedics Volume 12, Number 6/ November, 2003. 357-364.