Don’t let your backpack give you back pain

“We need to remember that although a backpack can be convenient, it can also be cruel to our bodies,” says Dr. Rick the Chiropractor. “It can twist your back and spine, and pinch your nerves.”

But he has some hints and tips to minimize problems from lugging around all your stuff.

“The rules are easy to follow,” says Dr. Rick, “and they are in the ballpark for just about anyone.”

The Backpack Rules:  10%, 15%

First, how heavy can a backpack be without causing problems?

“For primary school kids, my guideline is to make sure the backpack is no more than 10% of the child’s weight.

So, a 50-pound child can usually safely carry a five pound backpack. Switching to metric, a child weighing 25 kilos can carry a 2.5-kilo backpack.

An older child weighing 75 pounds is good for seven and a half pounds. That’s about 33 kilos  for the child and 3.3 kilos for the backpack.

When a child moves on to high school, the body is usually stronger, and it’s usually alright to move up to the 15% rule. A 100-pound Grade 9er is good for a 15 pound backpack;  that’s a 45 kilo student with a 6.5 kilo pack. And that Grade 12 football player at 180 pounds is good for a backpack weight about 25 pounds (80 kilos and a 12-kilo pack, respectively).

The Low-and-Front Rule

Place the heaviest items so they are low in the backpack, and up against your back, to prevent the backpack pulling you backwards, causing back pain.

How you place your items into the backpack matters, too.

Put the heavy books up against the side that touches your back. If you’re carrying a computer and a rain jacket, the computer goes against your back. And use a similar system if you’re a photographer with thousands of dollars of bodies and lenses.

And heavy items go near the bottom, with lighter items on top.

Keeping the backpack from sliding around, and spreading its weight over more of your body, is a good idea.

Use All the Straps

Most backpacks come with chest straps and waist belts, so it’s a good idea to use them. The waist straps and two shoulder straps help keep the backpack high on the back.

The goal is to keep the back pack light enough in weight and high enough on the back that you don’t need to lean forward, and are not pulled backwards, nor twisted to the side.

“We chiropractors find that a lot of people, but especially students, really don’t like going to the trouble of using both shoulder straps and the chest and waist bands. They like to just sling the pack over one shoulder,” says Dr. Rick.

“There is a cool factor here, but it may cost you later,” says Dr. Rick.

Adjust the shoulder straps to keep the backpack up high, and use the waist and chest straps to keep it from sliding around, while distributing the weight of backpack evenly.

The One Strap is Bad Rule—and the Compromise

“This one-shoulder approach is not a good idea, and it’s easy to see why. Parents can often just run their hands across their children’s backs, and feel how one shoulder blade seems out of position,” he explains. If the back feels strange and uneven, with one side noticeably different from the other, it would be a good idea to visit a chiropractor.

If the back still feels smooth, with no obvious damage yet, the best bet is to try to convince the child to use both straps most of the time.

Often they’ll agree with two straps for the long walk to and from school, if they can get away with one strap later.

So make a deal that they’ll follow the weight rule, and when using one shoulder, they’ll switch sides each time the backpack is picked up.