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By Dr. Ryan Trueman, BSc, DC

As August comes to a close, we are quickly moving into the school year. Studying and long classes can be hard enough on your body, so let’s try to minimize issues we may face before we even get to the books and talk about backpacks.
Note: When a lot of people think of backpacks, they think of children. I want to stress that the majority of the issues I see are in post-secondary university programs where the textbooks might as well be cinder blocks!

Total Weight

The total weight of a backpack should be no more than 10-15% of your body weight, especially in kids. If you are a university student this can be difficult with heavy textbooks. If you have to carry a heavier load, make sure to place the heavier items closer to your back. This will help keep the center of gravity closer to your body and help reduce added strain. Make sure to start your day by assessing what you will need. If you can reduce the weight by removing a textbook you won’t need, this can make a big difference by the end of the day.

children with rucksacks standing in the park near school


This may seem like a no-brainer, but the longer you wear your backpack the more strain you will put your body through. Unfortunately, our shoulders are not boxy and flat surfaces for our straps to sit nicely while fighting gravity. Therefore it takes constant muscle activation (primarily your upper trapezius muscle) to allow your bag to rest securely. Additionally, the compressive forces of the straps can be transferred to the shoulders and neck with heavier bags. This can present issues with not only muscles but also a structure called the brachial plexus. This plexus is a network of nerves that supple the entire arm and compressive forces on your shoulders can lead to symptoms further down the arm. Long story short, if want to reduce the stress on the body then reduce the time it is under stress!

Use Both Straps

As a kid who grew up in the 90s, we all know all the cool kids only carry their backpacks with one strap. This way of carrying a bag (especially heavy bags) is not only harder on the one shoulder that you carry your bag on but also throws off the center of gravity leading to issues all the way from your neck to your lower back. Do you know what is cooler than the one-strap carry? Being pain-free!

Proper Lifting

I always recommend picking up heavier bags by hinging at your hips, keeping your bag close to your body, lifting with your legs and avoiding a lot of torque/rotation when swinging the bag up to your shoulder. By picking up your heavy bags properly, you can hopefully avoid injury. You need to earn the stability to get away with lifting poorly, until then play it safe and lift properly!

girl at the airport window looking outside

Keep it Tight

I remember seeing this all the time in my undergrad days. People would sag their backpacks down to their lower back and almost over their waist. If you tighten the straps, it will ensure the bag is snug against the back and help again with both the center of gravity and the strain transferred up the body!

The student lifestyle is hard enough on the neck, upper back, and shoulders; a good-fitting backpack can help alleviate adding to these issues!