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How to Properly Use a Backpack

As a parent and a chiropractor, I often observe a problem that affects many young people/students and is of significant concern. Most students carry their schoolbooks, notes and supplies in backpacks. A backpack is a convenient way to carry loads because it frees up the hands. In fact, if used correctly, a backpack puts less strain on the spine and shoulders than a briefcase or shoulder bag. Unfortunately, too many students use their backpacks incorrectly. The result is postural strain that may lead to back and shoulder pain.


Fortunately, with parental observation, guidance and constant diligence, this is a preventable problem. Here are some of the causes of strain related to incorrect use of backpacks:

  • Too much to carry: Most young people/students are simply carrying too much weight back and forth every day. Two or three textbooks, workbooks, binders, folders and supplies can easily add up to over 25 lbs. of weight. Excess weight in the backpack causes a person to lean forward and causes strain on the neck and back's natural curves.

  • One shoulder carry: Carrying a backpack (especially a heavy one) on one shoulder creates shoulder strain and can eventually lead to compensatory changes in the upper and lower spine due to uneven pressure. Teenage girls, who are more susceptible to scoliosis (lateral spinal curvature), are at particular risk.

  • Poor knapsack design: backpacks with only one strap create postural imbalances. Backpacks with narrow straps can dig into the shoulders affecting blood and nerve supply to the arms. Heavier materials like leather add to the knapsack's weight.


Here are solutions to preventing injuries due to incorrect use of backpacks or poor backpack design:

  • Lighten the load: Inspect your child's knapsack frequently. Ask teachers what has to be brought home each day. Heavy books should only be carried when absolutely necessary. Binders full of notes and tests from previous terms can be left at home or at school. Your child should only carry current notes for assignments/topics/tests. Ensure adequate supplies are available at school and at home. Your child should only carry home each day what is required for homework that night. Observe your child carrying the the backpack. Look for areas of potential strain or poor usage. Be alert to this problem!

  • Use both straps: Both straps should be used always to avoid postural imbalances. When properly worn, a backpack is actually supported by the abdominal and back muscles, which work together to stabilize the trunk and hold the body in a proper postural alignment.

  • Buy a better backpack: Buy a backpack of durable, lightweight material. The straps should be wide and comfortable across the shoulders. Repair damaged straps immediately or replace the backpack. Luggage style mini-suitcases with wheels and extension handles are becoming a popular option. Don't just buy any backpack; shop around and look for quality.


A properly worn backpack of good design, which is at a minimum weight daily, is the key to preventing strain to your child's developing musculoskeletal system. Pay attention to this everyday. It only takes a few valuable moments to help prevent future problems and greatly improve your overall health and wellness!

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