Carrying a Backpack: Do It Right!

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Melina Pordeus De Paul Goedert, Senior Physical Therapist, LIH Olivia's Place Beijing

Melina Pordeus De Paula Goedert, Senior Physical Therapist, LIH Olivia’s Place Beijing

Students all over the world use backpacks every day for about 14 years. These backpacks routinely contain books, laptop computers, personal and other items used on a daily basis. Studies have shown potential for injury if the backpack is carried incorrectly is too heavy for a child to carry.

Injury can occur when a child tries to overcompensate for the extra weight by leaning forward, arching his or her back, or leaning to the side. Carrying a backpack can promote significant forward lean of the head and trunk compared with athletic bags or strapless bags. This type of compensation leads to improper spine alignment, causing fatigue and strain that may result in further injury. In addition, daily physical stress associated with carrying a backpack on one shoulder can significantly alter a child’s posture and gait pattern during the formative years.

The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) recommends limiting a backpack’s weight to 15 percent of a child’s weight. The APTA further recommend that no one, including adults, should carry more than 11kg (25lb) in a backpack.

Person’s Weight Maximum Backpack Weight
Pounds Kilograms Pounds Kilograms
60 27 5  2.5
60-75 27-34 10  4.5
100 45 15  6.8
125 56 18  8
150 68 20  9
200 90 or more 25*  11


In addition to weight, consider these recommended instructions for proper use of a backpack:


Wear both straps.

Using only one strap causes one side of the body to bear the weight of the backpack. This can be true even with one-strap backpacks that cross the body.


Remove and put on backpacks carefully.

Keep your trunk stable and avoid excessive twisting.


Wear the backpack over the strongest mid-back muscles.

Pay close attention to the way the backpack is positioned on the back. It should rest evenly in the middle of the back. Shoulder straps should be adjusted to allow the child to put on and take off the backpack without difficulty and permit free movement of the arms.


Lighten the load.

Keep the load at 10-15 percent or less of the student’s bodyweight. Carry only those items that are required for the day. Each night remove articles that can be left at home. Organize the contents of the backpack by placing the heaviest items closest to the back to reduce kinetic forces that cause postural misalignment and overwork muscles.


Parents and children can avoid injury by recognizing the following warning signs that the backpack is too heavy:

  • change in posture when wearing the backpack;
  • struggling when putting on or taking off the backpack;
  • pain when wearing the backpack;
  • tingling or numbness in arms and legs, mostly arms; or
  • red marks on the shoulders.


The perfect backpack has:

A padded back: Use a padded back to reduce pressure on the back, shoulders, and underarm regions, and also enhance comfort and safety.

Hip and chest belts: The belts transfer some of the backpack weight from the back and shoulders to the hips and torso;

Multiple compartments: Backpacks with multiple compartments allow for better distribution of weight, keep items secure, and ease access to the contents.