Right and Wrong Ways to Wear a Backpack to Prevent Pain

Positioning Your Backpack Correctly

Paying attention to how you wear a backpack can help you prevent back and shoulder pain. It's easy to grab your backpack as you head out the door, even simply slinging it on one shoulder. But wearing a backpack wrong can lead to more pressure on the neck, shoulders, and back. It's never too early for kids to start developing good backpack habits. If you're an adult, it's not too late to learn how to wear a backpack right.

The Right Way to Wear a Backpack

Wearing Backpacks on Walk
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Use these tips to get the right backpack positioning each time you put on your backpack. You may need to practice these mindfully for a couple of weeks to make them a habit.

  • Always wear both shoulder straps rather than slinging your backpack with one strap on one shoulder. It takes a moment longer but this simple habit can help prevent problems.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so the backpack is high on your back and the shoulder straps are comfortable on your shoulders.
  • Your backpack should not sway from side to side as you walk. That can lead to chafing from the shoulder straps and from rubbing against your back. A stable load is better.
  • If the backpack has a waist strap or pectoral strap, you should use it. Waist straps help to distribute the weight load to the hips, relieving shoulder pressure. A pectoral strap helps keep the shoulder straps in place and reduces swaying of the pack.

Wrong Way to Wear a Backpack: Using the One Strap Sling Method

It is easy and stylish to carry your backpack slung over one shoulder, using only one strap. However, this position puts all of the pressure on one shoulder. You cannot walk with good posture with a load of several pounds on one shoulder only.

Researchers say wearing a backpack slung on one shoulder can lead to poor posture and pain in the neck, shoulders, and back. Even if you switch it back and forth between shoulders, you are walking off-balance. This puts a strain on all of the bones and muscles of your upper body, not to mention your hips and core.

Take the time to use both straps and position the backpack high on the back, where it won't sway with each step.

Wrong Way to Wear a Backpack: Low on the Back

Wearing Backpack Low on Back
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Wearing a backpack low on your back increases the pressure on the shoulders. This position may lead to shoulder and lower back strain.

You may find that you are doing this because you have been loosening the straps to make it easier to put the backpack on and to take it off. This especially is true when you adjust it for your overcoat, but you don't readjust it when you aren't wearing a jacket.

This low back position may lead to a forward lean, which places pressure on the lower back. Loose straps also allow the pack to sway back and forth when you walk, which can be uncomfortable and may result in the straps chafing your shoulders.

Take the time adjust the straps immediately when you put on your backpack, so it rides high on your back. Your shoulders and back will thank you.

If you have difficulty adjusting the straps, they may not be laced correctly, or the mechanism may be broken. You may be able to find instructions on the manufacturer's website on how to adjust them and ensure they are properly threading through the mechanism. If that doesn't work, it's probably worthwhile to get a new backpack that has easily adjustable straps.

Light Backpacks for Children

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Children should carry no more than 10 percent of their body weight in their backpack. That means that it should probably weigh four to 10 pounds at most. You may have to help lighten your child's backpack as well as ensure your child is wearing it right. Another option is to get a rolling backpack for your child.


Drzaƚ-Grabiec J, Truszczyńska A, Rykaƚa J, Rachwaƚ M, Snela S, Podgórska J. Effect of asymmetrical backpack load on spinal curvature in school children. Work. 2015;51(2):383-388. doi:10.3233/wor-141981.

Talbott NR, Bhattacharya A, Davis KG, Shukla R, Levin L. School Backpacks: It's More Than Just a Weight Problem. Work. 2009;34(4):481-94. doi: 10.3233/WOR-2009-0949.