Is Carrying a Backpack Hurting Your Neck?
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Is Carrying a Backpack Hurting Your Neck?

Is Carrying a Backpack Hurting Your Neck?

Backpacks can be an excellent way to carry books, binders, lunch, running shoes and other items for school or recreation, but they can be a source of temporary discomfort or eventually serious soreness. Very heavy or improperly worn backpacks can lead to poor posture, cause stress on the soft tissue in your neck and back and put an extra load on your muscles and joints.

Backpacks are designed to distribute the load evenly.   Worn correctly and not overloaded, a backpack is supported by the back and abdominal muscles.   These muscles work together to stabilize the trunk and hold the body in proper balance and postural alignment.

Is My Backpack a Problem?

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

  • you have to struggle to get your backpack on or off
  • you have to lean forward to carry your pack
  • you have neck pain or tingling in your arms
  • you have red marks on your shoulders

Tips for Choosing and Using Backpacks

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

  • Make sure it is not oversized. Getting one just to “carry more” can mean you’ll be hauling too much weight around too often. Neither your neck nor your back will thank you for it.
  • The shoulder straps should fit comfortably and not dig in to the shoulder. This will allow the arms to move freely. The straps should be padded and adjust so the pack sits close against your back. The wider the straps, the better—or at least more comfortable!
  • The bottom of the pack should rest in the contour of the lower back.  
  • Use a waist belt: this is important to “unweight” the pack and carry some of the load through your hips; this will directly take pressure from your neck
  • Always pack your backpack with the heaviest items closest to your back. Don’t drop all your stuff in the main compartment (using the side pockets will distribute the weight more evenly).
  • To wear a backpack properly, wear both shoulder straps to distribute the weight evenly—don’t sling it over one shoulder. Using only one strap loads the entire weight of the pack on one side, causing you to lean. Over time, this abnormal posture can create lower and upper back pain as well as neck and shoulder strain.
  • Limit your load. It is recommended that people carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs. This means that if you weigh 120 pounds, your backpack should weigh no more than 12 to 18 pounds. Choosing a lightweight backpack can get you off to a good start. Use your bathroom scale to weigh your backpack and get an idea of what the proper weight for you feels like.
  • Pick it up properly. As with any heavy weight, you should bend at the knees when lifting a backpack to your shoulders.
  •  When wearing a backpack, stand tall with your head and neck in line with your shoulders and use both shoulder straps to help evenly distribute the weight of the pack.
  • Consider a pack with wheels as an alternative to backpacks

If you’re having neck or back pain when carrying your bag or backpack, and adjusting it does not alleviate the pain, see your physiotherapist to help get to the source of the pain and get you better, faster.