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Backpack Basics


You probably don't give much thought to your backpack. It gets used, it gets abused, and it gets shoved in the bottom of your locker or the corner of your room.

But can your backpack abuse you? The answer is yes. When a backpack isn't used properly, it can cause back problems or even injury.

Backpacks Are Best

Backpacks can't be beat for helping you to stay organized. Multiple compartments keep all your supplies and notes close at hand.

Backpacks are a better option than shoulder or messenger bags for carrying books and supplies. That's because the weight of the pack is evenly distributed across your body. The strongest muscles in the body — the back and the abdominal muscles — support the pack.

But backpacks that are overloaded or not used properly can make for some heavy health problems.

How Can Backpacks Cause Problems?

Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae. Between the vertebrae are disks that act as natural shock absorbers. When you put a heavy weight on your shoulders in the wrong way, the weight's force can pull you backward. To compensate, you may bend forward at the hips or arch your back. This can cause your spine to compress unnaturally.

People who carry heavy backpacks sometimes lean forward. Over time this can cause the shoulders to become rounded and the upper back to become curved. Because of the heavy weight, there's a chance of developing shoulder, neck, and back pain.

If you wear your backpack over just one shoulder, or carry your books in a messenger bag, you may end up leaning to one side to offset the extra weight. You might develop lower and upper back pain and strain your shoulders and neck. Not using a backpack properly can lead to bad posture.

Is your backpack getting on your nerves? It might be. Tight, narrow straps that dig into your shoulders can pinch nerves and interfere with circulation, and you might develop tingling, numbness, and weakness in your arms and hands.

Carrying a heavy pack increases the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the backpack puts the wearer off balance.

People who carry large packs often aren't aware of how much space the packs take up and can hit others with their packs when turning around or moving through tight spaces, such as the aisles of the school bus. Students also can be injured when they trip over large packs or the packs fall on them.

Is My Backpack a Problem?

You may need to put less in your pack or carry it differently if:

If you adjust the weight or the way you carry your pack but still have back pain or numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, talk to your doctor.

Tips for Choosing and Using Backpacks

Here are a few tips that will help make your backpack work for you, not against you:

Following these tips is the best way to avoid back pain and other problems.

Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: August 2016


Note: All information on TeensHealth® is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.

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