Do Backpacks Equal Back Pain?

Backpacks are as much a necessity for school as the books they hold. And with the various books, supplies, and, of course, lunch, these backpacks can get awfully heavy. It is not uncommon to see a school-aged child walking home or waiting for the bus with a backpack that appears to be straining the child. One can't help but be concerned that this burden is causing significant pressure on the young body. And if it is a strain, could more chronic problems develop from it? However, the answer lies more with common sense than true science.

Over the past few years the style has been to wear backpacks using only one strap on one shoulder.It was noticed that these students began to complain of shoulder and back pain that seemed to be associated with using backpacks in this manner. No formal study of this phenomenon was ever done, however, these concerns continued for younger kids because it was felt they might not be as likely to complain. We do know that children who wear backpacks using only one strap alter their gait and posture to accommodate the asymmetric load. We also know that those who wear these same backpacks using both straps do not significantly alter their gait or posture even when carrying weights comparable to several large texts. Unfortunately, the pain that this may or may not cause is not known.

Relying on common sense is the best medicine. It makes sense that wearing a backpack that significantly alters posture may cause pain from muscle strain. Thus, prevention is the key.


  • Choose a backpack with straps for both shoulders and then encourage your child to wear it properly. This should help keep posture normal and decrease any risk of strain.
  • Minimize the weight in your child's backpack.
  • Finally, if the pain occurs while attending school and then goes away during the weekends and vacation, be suspicious of the pack and make adjustments as necessary.
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