The ABC's of Proper Backpack Ergonomics



By Rob Kaulbach, PT



•    Choose a well made pack – a cheap bag does not have the features that reduce the stress on the back.  Plan to spend about $40.00
•    Wear Both Straps – wearing over one shoulder causes asymmetry and strain
•    Wide padded straps  reduce pressure on the shoulders that can cause irritation to the nerves to the arms
•    Padded back to protect back from sharp objects in the pack
•    Match pack to the size of the child  - The backpack should sit evenly on the back and not sag toward the buttocks (should not extend 4 inches below the waistline)
•    A waist belt will help distribute load away from the spine onto the pelvis
•    Compression Straps and good use of compartments reduce movement of the pack and stabilize the contents
•    Reflective Material – for low light safety

Incidence and effect of a heavy and poorly fitted backpack:

•    A Study conducted by a PT professor found that 55% of children examined carried heavier than 15% of their body weight in their backpack which experts see as unsafe
•    This same study found that 33% of the children experienced pain that caused them a visit to the doctor, made them miss school or kept them from positive physical activities
•    Overloading a child’s spine can cause arching of the back, leaning forward or leaning to the side if only one strap is used
•    These postural changes can cause spinal compression and improper alignment
•    A heavy load on the shoulders can compress the neck and the nerves to the arms causing numbness, tingling and pain
•    Although there is overwhelming support that heavy backpacks cause short term problems, it is unclear if they cause permanent orthopedic problems
•    Other factors known to cause back and neck pain such as poor study positioning, inactivity and increased participation in athletics can also complicate the above effects of wearing a heavy backpack


•    Pack only what you need to carry rather than what fits in your bag (only 15% of bodyweight)
•    Put the heaviest items against the back and closer to the bottom – this creates less torque on the back
•    Use compartments to distribute and stabilize items
•    Clean out old papers, broken pencils, food, etc which add weight to the bag
•    A heavy backpack on Friday may mean that there has been too much procrastination of homework – get it done and lighten your load
•    Go electronic (i.e. and iPad) if your teacher has reading materials available in this format
•    Ask your teacher if there are paperback options to books/texts
•    No unnecessary text books in your bag…if you don’t need them don’t take them!
•    Use your locker at school to store large texts, spare notebooks, extra stationary and sporting gear


APTA  Website – Is Your Child’s Backpack Making the Grade?  Goodgold, S., Alexandria, VA, April 14, 2009
Backpack Safety - MoveForwardPT.com
Wiki –How to Avoid a Heavy Backpack
Google Images – Backpack Safety