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The ultimate guide to backpacks (what to look for and how to wear them properly)

Author: CCA Staff Team Date: Sep 3, 2019 Back Care Tips, Blog, Chiropractic Expertise
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Apple, pile of books and backpack on the desk at the elementary school.

With back-to-school season in full swing, many parents are concerned about finding the right backpacks. In any given day, children and adolescents carry textbooks, binders, laptops and school lunches – and the weight can add up.

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 significant because research suggests that backpacks should be no more than 10% of the wearer’s body weight.If a 17-year-old student, for example, weighs an average of 130 pounds, their backpack should only weigh 13 pounds.

Why does the weight of backpacks matter? While more research is needed, studies show that the incorrect use of school bags may lead to discomfort and changes in posture.2 It’s important to note that 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, children are not wearing it long enough for long-term damage to occur,” says Michael Holmes, Canada Research Chair in Neuromuscular Mechanics and Ergonomics.

Our ultimate guide to backpacks will provide a comprehensive 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

Sport 32 litre, Blue blackpack, front-facing

A waist strap

This distributes the weight of the bag more evenly

Sport 32 litre, Blue blackpack, side-facing

Wide, padded shoulder straps

Too much weight on the shoulders and neck can impair circulation

Sport 32 litre, Blue blackpack, back-facing

A padded back

This protects from oddly shaped objects in the bag

Sport 32 litre, Blue blackpack, inside view

Compartments

Like a waist strap, compartments distribute weight more evenly

Wearing a backpack correctly

Ask yourself 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?

Young boys walking to school with backpacks on

Image courtesy of Beckmann of Norway

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.

Note: The CCA is proud to endorse Beckmann of Norway – we have included endorsement links in this post.

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.

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