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  • Chesapeake Bay Aquatic &
    Physical Therapy Articles

    Backpacks and Back Health

    Backpacks are a popular item to use to carry items to and from work, school, and for daily or recreational use. But it is often overlooked the adverse effect backpacks can have on the health of our back and neck. If worn or packed incorrectly over time, they can cause pain and injury to your back and neck muscles, ligaments, and joints.

    Children and younger adults are especially at risk as their bodies are still developing and growing. Wearing heavier amounts on their back can compress the spine unnaturally, which could lead to health complications or injuries later in life. Adults can also be harmed by carrying heavier loads on their backs. Even though an adult’s skeletal frame and muscles are much more developed, carrying heavier loads, especially more than 15% of your body weight, can cause a strain on the back and neck muscles, ligaments and joints. By following some safety tips when wearing a backpack, you can help preserve the health of your spine.

    1. Make sure your backpack is the correct fit. The backpack should not be wider than your torso. The shoulder strap anchor points should not extend past 1-2 inches below your shoulders. The bottom of the backpack should not fall lower than 1-2 inches below your waistline. When fastening the straps of your backpack, they should fit snugly to the torso and/or shoulders.
    2. Make sure your backpack has the correct padding. Choose a backpack with wide, padded shoulder straps and padded back panel to help distribute the weight more evenly and prevent direct pressure on the spine.
    3. Always wear both shoulder straps and waist strap while carrying your backpack. This will help to distribute the weight more evenly and maintain your center of gravity.
    4. Monitor the amount of weight you carry in your backpack. It is recommended you carry no more than 10-15% of your body weight in your backpack. Carrying more than this amount of weight can strain your back, neck, and shoulders possibly leading to injury.
    5. A backpack with multiple compartments is ideal as this allows the load to be balanced throughout the bag. Pack heavier items at the bottom and center of the bag to help maintain your center of gravity.
    6. Be aware of your posture when lifting and wearing your backpack. Maintain a neutral spine and use your legs when lifting your backpack to put it on. Your backpack should fit tight to your body when wearing it to prevent shifting of items, swaying, and rubbing against your skin.

    If you frequently carry a backpack and are experiencing any back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, contact your local physical therapy office for an evaluation.