With the return to school, many parents are concerned about finding the right backpacks. Children and adolescents carry textbooks, binders, laptops, and school lunches – and the weight can add up.

When commuting as folks return to working in person, there may also be a need for a backpack to carry laptops, files, lunch etc.

A CNN investigation carried out in Atlanta; Georgia found that students were carrying up to 25 pounds of weight in their backpacks. ¹ This is noteworthy because research suggests that backpacks should be no more than 10% of the wearer’s body weight. 2 If a 17-year-old student/adult weighs an average of 130 pounds, their backpack should only weigh 13 pounds.

Why does the weight of backpacks matter?

Studies also show that the incorrect use of school bags may lead to discomfort and changes in posture. 2 Wearing a backpack does not in and of itself lead to back pain. If a backpack has a reasonable amount of weight in it and fits correctly, persons are not wearing it long enough for long-term damage to occur.

Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst. Note: The child on the left is wearing an oversized backpack

Below is a list of items to consider when shopping for a backpack – as well as tips on how to wear them correctly.

Choosing the right backpack

Here are some items to look for when considering a new backpack: 3,4

  • Chest straps, hip belts and side compression straps distribute the weight of the bag more evenly allowing the load to be cinched closer to the body, for transfer of weight to the hips.
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps so as to not impair circulation
  • A padded back protects from oddly shaped objects in the bag
  • Compartments distribute the weight more evenly

Wearing a backpack correctly

Ask the following questions to assess whether a backpack is being worn correctly: 3

  • Is the backpack reasonably proportional to the size of the person?
  • Does the bottom of the bag sit at waist level?
  • Does the bag weigh more than 10% of the person’s weight?
  • Is the person wearing both shoulder straps?
  • Can the person walk normally with the backpack on, or are they slouched over/breathing heavily?

By purchasing the right backpack and wearing it correctly, you can minimize discomfort and poor posture habits. However, if you or your child have pre-existing back, shoulder, or neck pain, talk to a chiropractor today.

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1Gumbrecht, Jamie. “What’s inside Students’ Heavy Backpacks?” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Oct. 2015, www.cnn.com/2015/10/21/health/backpack-safety/index.html.

2Perrone, Michelle et al. “The Impact of Backpack Loads on School Children: A Critical Narrative Review.” International journal of environmental research and public health vol. 15,11 2529. 12 Nov. 2018, doi:10.3390/ijerph15112529

3“Prof Demystifies Long-Term Health Damage of Backpacks.” Medicalxpress.com, Brock University, 3 Sept. 2018, medicalxpress.com/news/2018-09-prof-demystifies-long-term-health-backpacks.html.

4“Backpack Safety.” Protect IU, protect.iu.edu/environmental-health/occupational-health/ergo-program/back/backpack.html.

Dr Natasha Hayden is a pediatric and prenatal chiropractor that is passionate about helping her community discover just how good their bodies are designed to feel, so they can do more of what they love.  

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