3 Tips for Protecting Your Back While Carrying a Backpack

Happy National School Backpack Awareness Day!

Photo via iStock.

It’s everyone’s favorite holiday: Happy National School Backpack Awareness Day!

Backpacks can be great (see: carrying around all your earthly possessions in one vessel), but they can also be not so great (see: back strain from carrying around all said earthly possessions).

Paul Roberts of Sand and Steel Fitness in Alexandria is a mobility and movement specialist, and here he shares some tips for using a backpack without breaking your back. Whether you’re commuting on the Metro or marching off to grad school, hopefully this takes a load off.

It’s all about positioning

Instead of leaning forward, backward, or twisting while wearing your bag, make sure to keep your spine neutral, says Roberts. And most importantly—it’s all about the positioning. Instead of evenly distributing your bag’s load, put the heaviest objects closest to your spine, he says. And be sure to keep the weight distribution equal on your straps.

But still—don’t overdo it

If you’re carrying your backpack, it should weigh less than 10 percent of your bodyweight, says Roberts. If you’re pulling a wheeled bag, then it should contain less than 20 percent.

The National Safety Council recommends that bags should have several compartments to distribute weight, do not hang more than four inches below your waist, and are smaller than your torso.

When in doubt, stretch it out

If you overpack your bag, you can risk hurting not only your back, but also your hamstrings, hip flexors, glutes, and core, says Roberts.

If you do overdo it, he recommends the following yoga stretches to help your spine:

  • Spinal rotation with the Half Lord of the Fishes pose, seated, legs crossed, elbow over opposite knee
  • Spinal extension with the Bridge pose, head, shoulders, and feet on the ground, with the glutes and belly lifted toward the ceiling
  • Spinal flexion with Uttanasana, bending at the waist and wrapping your hands around your ankles
  • Spinal tilt with a Gate pose, one knee down and one leg and same side arm extended

Mimi Montgomery Washingtonian
Home & Features Editor

Mimi Montgomery joined Washingtonian in 2018. She’s written for The Washington Post, Garden & Gun, Outside Magazine, Washington City Paper, DCist, and PoPVille. Originally from North Carolina, she now lives in Del Ray.