Healthy Living

Choosing Backpacks: Take a Weight Off Their Shoulders

Aug. 20, 2018

Days are getting shorter, nights are getting cooler, and store shelves are stacked with back-to-school supplies. If you and your child will be shopping for a backpack, you'll have plenty of choices in colors, sizes and styles. UR Medicine physical therapist Bryan Guzski offers advice for finding the backpack that's best for your child.

young children wearing backpacks

Shoulder the Load

Rolling backpacks may help take the load off your student's shoulders, but they often don't fit easily in lockers. If a pack on wheels won't work, look for one with wider, padded shoulder straps. This will help to decrease pressure placed on the child's chest and shoulders. Backpacks with padded backs will help to keep objects in the bag from poking into your child’s back. A waist strap can also help to distribute some of the weight from the back to the pelvis.

Watch the Weight

Consider restricting the weight for filled backpacks, especially for middle-schoolers who are at an age when the number of classes and books starts to increase. Backpacks should not be heavier than 15 percent of the child’s body weight. For example, a child weighing 100 pounds should not carry a backpack of more than 15 pounds. And no child, regardless of body weight, should carry more than 25 pounds.

Check for Problems

How will you know if your child's backpack is causing problems? Watch for back pain that is produced by wearing their backpack. Red marks on their shoulders under the straps could be a sign that there is an issue with the fit or weight of the bag. A tingling or numbness into the arms or legs could indicate nerve compression.

How to Fit, Carry

When worn properly, backpacks are supported by the strong “core” muscles--the back and abdominal muscle groups. Here are a few tips to ensure the fit is appropriate:

  • Both straps of the backpack should be worn, one over each shoulder, to distribute the weight of the bag. The straps of the backpack should not restrict shoulder movement.
  • The bottom of the backpack should rest on the lower part of the back and not sag to the buttocks. The backpack can be secured here using the waist strap.
  • Packing the backpack with the heaviest objects closest to the body can be helpful to reduce the force through the spine.


Bryan Guzski is coordinator of the Spine Rehabilitation Program at UR Medicine’s Sports and Spine Rehabilitation. A physical therapist who helps patients rehabilitate after spine and neck injuries, he is also a certified strength and conditioning specialist and a certified exercise physiologist.