With school back in session, homework and life is beginning to weigh down on kids’ backs. The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission has calculated that carrying a 12-pound backpack to and from school and lifting it 10 times a day for an entire school year puts a cumulative load on youngsters’ bodies of 21,600 pounds — the equivalent of six mid-sized cars.

But it’s not just kids: College students and professionals weigh themselves down with heavy backpacks too. It’s extremely important that both kids and adults know about backpack safety. Backpacks that are worn incorrectly or are too heavy can lead to back, neck, and shoulder injuries. These injuries can eventually cause growth and joint problems in young children and posture problems at any age.

The Weight of the World

Pain often results when the weight of the pack pulls people backward, prompting them to bend forward or to arch their backs to keep the pack centered. Bending forward can compress the spine, pressing on the vertebrae and the discs between them. According to The New York Times, girls are at a greater risk of back pain than boys, and their risk increases with age; the longer you carry a heavy backpack, the more pain you have. While some of these risk factors are out of your control and a backpack is usually the most efficient option for carrying your belongings, you can still take precautionary measures to protect your back.

See what changes you can make to avoid back pain when carrying your heavy load.

Preventing Injury

  • Use backpacks with wide, padded shoulder straps.
  • A backpack should not weigh more than 15% of the human’s weight. So pack lightly or carry some books in your arms.
  • Make sure you backpack fits properly. Tighten your straps so your pack rests two inches above your waist and close to your back.
  • It’s not the 90s, wear both shoulder straps to evenly distribute the weight.
  • Put the heaviest items in the back of your backpack, closest to your back muscles.
  • If you have a waist belt, use it.
  • Lift at the knees when you pick your backpack up.
  • Pack light–if you don’t need it that day, don’t bring it.
  • Learn back strengthening exercises to build muscles in your back.
  • There are so many kinds of backpacks: messengers, rollers, shoulders, or normal backpacks. Normal, two strap backpacks and rollers are best for you back pain.

If You Have Discomfort

If you have discomfort while carrying a backpack, try to switch up the position of your pack. If that does not help and the pain continues, your backpack may be straining your back muscles. Call your physician to make an appointment. We know schoolwork can be painful but it shouldn’t hurt you that much!