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Keeping Back Pain Out of Backpacks

It’s that time of year again – back to school! As kids will soon be finishing their last days at camp, parents will be preparing for the return of the hustle and bustle, and the summer calm will be ending soon. For the little ones (or not so little ones) returning to the classroom this year, it is important they are properly equipped. As stores bombard us with ‘Back To School’ specials, the backpack is one of the most important pieces for every student.


Carrying anything on your back and shoulders has an impact on our posture and overall spine health. As students of all ages wear backpacks on a daily basis, this subject is of utmost importance to them. However, adults who carry or wear any type of bag need to be mindful of this as well.


I often get asked about proper fit, weight limitations, and special features to look for in a backpack for children. For the purpose of this blog, I will discuss some key factors to look for in a backpack to help avoid backpack-related injuries. Spinal health starts at a young age and children’s spines are typically more vulnerable as they are growing.


Carrying a heavy load in the backpack can lead to excess pressure and stress on joints and muscles. Additionally, uneven distribution of weight can also have similar affects. We want to make sure the weight in the backpack is within a suitable range for our bodies.


An example of poor backpack positioning is having the straps too long resulting in the backpack hanging too low on our back, or carrying it on one shoulder. This can pull on our shoulders and neck resulting in compensation and imbalance of our muscles that can lead to posture related problems and pain. To help correct this, ensure that the shoulder straps are tightened so that the pack sits comfortably close to the body without gapping and does not sag.


It is also important to be mindful of the structure of the backpack itself. For example, how is it constructed and is it made with good quality materials. Lower-end backpacks often have unpadded shoulder straps and an overall poor structure to the bag. Backpacks that are sturdy with padded shoulder straps and extra padding for the low back have more comfort and a better fit. Multiple compartments or pockets will help distribute weight throughout the pack for a more even load. For additional support, backpacks that have horizontal straps across the hips and chest will help distribute the load to our pelvis and keep the pack properly secured close to our body.


Therefore in summary, when purchasing a new backpack keep in mind these important tips:


  • Look for a bag that has good quality padding and constructed well – a higher quality backpack is a good investment.
  • A bag that has multiple compartments is best for distributing the weight of the load.
  • Bags with straps across the hips and chest help to take off pressure from your shoulders and neck. Our hips and pelvis are designed to bear more weight.
  • The physical size of the bag should not be too big. It should start around the bottom of the neck and should not go further down than your lower back.


When fitting and wearing a backpack, here are some important guidelines as well:


  • Always wear your backpack on both shoulders.
  • Ensure the shoulder straps are tightened so that the bag is not hanging low and it is close to the body.
  • If your backpack has a pelvis or chest strap, have those secured snuggly as well.
  • The overall weight of your backpack should not exceed approximately 10% of your body weight. Do not overload the bag.
  • Utilize multiple compartments and pockets to evening distribute the contents of your bag. Place the heavier objects at the bottom of your bag, with lighter objects on top or in smaller pockets.
  • Wearing your backpack should be comfortable, nothing should feel too tight or too heavy.


Ensuring the proper fit and wear of the backpack will help your child stay pain-free during the school year!


For more information on spinal health, book a free consultation. Dr. Elysse Pilon is accepting new patients and would be happy to discuss any of your healthcare needs!



Author: Dr. Elysse Pilon, B.A. Kin (Hons), D.C., C.Ac

Chiropractor | Acupuncture Provider | Paediatrics | Custom Orthotics 




Please note that this is for educational purposes only and not intended as specific medical advice. If you have any questions or concerns make sure to consult one of our knowledgeable health practitioners at Lawrence Park Health Clinic.

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