Franklin & Marshall College Franklin & Marshall College

September 2009 Wellness Tip


Backpack Tips

A new academic year is well underway for all of us, and it's the time when faculty, staff and students are carrying backpacks, purses, tote bags and briefcases to and from, and across campus. The American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. provides a number of tips we probably don't think about to reduce the health effects of these carriers if packed too heavy or are worn improperly. Tomorrow, Wednesday, September 16th, is National School Backpack Awareness Day, and below are a few facts and tips to help answer the question, "What's all the flap about?"

It's recommended that a loaded backpack should never weigh more than 15 percent of a person's total body weight (for someone weighing 150 pounds, that means a backpack should never weigh more than 22 1/2 pounds). However, studies indicate that 55 percent of persons carrying backpacks for educational purposes have them loaded heavier than the recommended guidelines. And, according to a study by Boston University, approximately 85 percent of university students self-report discomfort and pain associated with backpack usage.


The way backpacks are worn affects your health. The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist. Wear the backpack on both shoulders so the weight is evenly distributed.

"Pack it light and wear it right." Load heaviest items closest to the back of the pack, and arrange books and materials so they won't slide around. If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels.

Distribute weight evenly by using both straps; select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause pain and discomfort. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied. Adjust straps so that the pack fits snugly and won't cause strain. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the waistline.

Purses, tote bags and briefcases

Select these carriers with built-in compartments to distribute weight more evenly. Also, choose one that is proportionate to body size and no larger than what is needed. Avoid carriers made of heavy material such as leather, which adds extra weight. Instead, select carriers made of lighter materials such as microfiber and fabric. Avoid thin and long straps; ensure that pressure caused by the straps does not cause discomfort.

Consider the contents; can you leave some items at home or in the car trunk, or get rid of duplicate contents? Regularly empty your wallet of coins. Clip your cell phone to your waist and leave keys you do not use on a regular basis at home. Use travel-size toiletries or medications to keep in a purse or briefcase, instead of larger, heavier sizes. If you find that your briefcase is always heavy and you need to carry all the contents inside, consider a wheeled briefcase.

For briefcases with short handles, switch positions frequently to avoid fatigue from muscle overuse. For briefcases with shoulder straps, place the strap diagonally across the opposite shoulder to help distribute weight evenly across the back. Square your shoulders and avoid lifting your shoulders to keep the shoulder strap from slipping. Alternate shoulders by switching the briefcase from side to side. While carrying your briefcase, give yourself a break by resting it on the floor, counter or railing when waiting or standing in line. 

Cindi Dinger, on behalf of the Wellness Committee