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Adrian    Backpack basics for back-to-school

Students are heading back-to-school, and that last thing you would think to worry about is back pain. However, overloaded backpacks and improper use are common causes of neck, back and shoulder pain in children and young people.

This preventable strain on their muscles and joints can develop into postural problems that may put your child at risk for other injuries later in life. Back-to-school should not be a pain, so follow the next steps with your children to help keep the pressure off.

Pick it right

When shopping for the right backpack, look for the following features:

Padding – to protect your back and shoulders from the items in your pack and to reduce direct pressure
Adjustable straps or buckles – adjustable shoulder, chest and waist straps help to reduce pressure by positioning the bag correctly and distributing the weight evenly
Compression straps – on the sides or bottom of the backpack keep items closer to your back and prevent them from shifting inside your bag

Pack it right

A backpack should not carry more than 10-15% of your bodyweight. A typical student needs to pack books, lunch and gym clothes but it is important to carry only items that are needed for the day or for that period. You should also organize your bag by packing the heaviest items closest to your back.

Wear it right

The most common mistakes I see in children and young people wearing backpacks are wearing only one strap or positioning the bag too low. This is something that I was guilty of in junior high because it was supposed to be the “cool” thing to do. Improper use leads to poor posture and muscle imbalance, which does not look “cool”. By wearing both shoulder straps, the weight is better distributed. Make sure they fit comfortably and allow you to move your arms freely and to remove the backpack with ease. The bottom of the bag should never fall below the waist. Adjust the straps to allow the pack to rest evenly in the middle of your back. Lastly, use the chest and waist buckles to keep the contents stabilized and close to your body.

Nowadays, bags come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, which makes it easy to pick the right one. Take note if your child has pain when wearing a backpack – numbness or tingling in the arms or, if you find red marks on their shoulders. It is important to address this as soon as they report any pain or discomfort before it leads to a more serious problem. In most cases, the solution is as easy as teaching your children how to wear a backpack properly or finding a better fit.


Special thanks to my siblings Anabelle, Angela and Austin Salonga for demonstrating the right and wrong way to wear a backpack.

Adrian Salonga is a graduate of the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor’s degree of Medical Rehabilitation in Physical Therapy. Please send your questions regarding mobility, health promotion or injury prevention to


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