URMC » Patients & Families » Health Matters » August 2013 » A Weight Off Your Shoulders: Choosing a Backpack

A Weight Off Your Shoulders: Choosing a Backpack

It sure seems as though we were just  celebrating the end of a school year and the start of summer. Alas, store shelves packed with back-to-school items are among the many signs that the first day of class is just around the corner.

If a backpack is on your school-shopping list, you'll no doubt find a sea of choices, with varying colors and trademarked characters, and different sizes and styles. Physical Therapist Jillian Collins offers theses ideas to help you guide your student in finding the backpack that is best for them.

young children wearing backpacks

Shoulder the Load

Rolling backpacks may help take the load off your student's shoulders, but they often don't fit easily in lockers. If a pack on wheels won't work, look for one with wider, padded shoulder straps. This will help to decrease pressure placed on the child's chest and shoulders. Backpacks with padded backs will help to keep objects in the bag from poking into your child’s back. A waist strap can also help to distribute some of the weight from the back to the pelvis.

Watch the Weight

Consider restricting the weight for filled backpacks, especially for middle-schoolers who are at an age when the number of classes and books starts to increase. Backpacks should not be heavier than 15 percent of the child’s body weight. For example, a child weighing 100 pounds should not carry a backpack of more than 15 pounds. And no child, regardless of body weight, should carry more than 25 pounds.

Check for Problems

How will you know if your child's backpack is causing problems? Watch for back pain that is produced by wearing their backpack. Red marks on their shoulders under the straps could be a sign that there is an issue with the fit or weight of the bag. A tingling or numbness into the arms or legs could indicate nerve compression.

How to Fit, Carry

When worn properly, backpacks are supported by the strong “core” muscles – the back and abdominal muscle groups. Here are a few tips to ensure the fit is appropriate:

  • Both straps of the backpack should be worn, one over each shoulder, to distribute the weight of the bag. The straps of the backpack should not restrict shoulder movement.
  • The bottom of the backpack should rest on the lower part of the back and not “sag” to the buttocks. The backpack can be secured here using the waist strap.
  • Packing the backpack with the heaviest objects closest to the body can be helpful to reduce the force through the spine.


Physical therapist Jillian CollinsJillian Collins, P.T., D.P.T., is physical therapist in the URMC Department of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation and a member of the URMC Sports Medicine team.






Lori Barrette | 8/26/2013 | 0 comments


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