Skip to navigation Skip to Content
Join a world-class health system. Find jobs

Ask the Expert:

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ Erik G. Smith, DPT

Erik G. Smith, DPT​​​​
Physical therapist
Sees patients at Marshfield Clinic Stettin Center

​Question: Can my backpack cause back pain or other problems?​

​ Backpacks that are overloaded or used improperly can cause shoulder, neck and back pain, as well as poor posture.​

To make your backpack work FOR you rather than AGAINST you:

  • Use a backpack with two padded straps, the wider the better.
  • A metal frame is also good, but many lockers aren't big enough to hold this kind of pack.
  • Look for a backpack with a waist belt to help distribute weight more evenly.
  • Limit your load to no more than 10% to 15% of your body weight. This means that if you weigh 120 pounds, your loaded backpack should weigh no more than 12 to 18 pounds. Use your bathroom scale to weigh it and get an idea of what the proper weight for you feels like.
  • Pick up your backpack like any heavy object, by bending at the knees. ​
  • Plan ahead. Make frequent locker trips to drop off things you don’t need until later. Spread your homework out over the course of the week so you won't have to tote all your books home on weekends.
  • Strengthen your core muscles through weight training, Pilates or yoga.
  • Wear both straps over your shoulders. Keep your load light enough so you can easily walk or stand upright, and pack it with the heaviest items closest to your back.

Marshfield Clinic provides Physical and Occupational Therapy​ in a number of our centers. Your primary care doctor can refer you to the appropriate specialty and location. ​