Is your backpack too heavy?

Your backpack may seem harmless, but if it is overloaded, you may experience painful back and neck problems.

Effects of an overweight backpack

Put your backpack on the scale and see how much weight you’re carrying back and forth to work or classes each day.

An overweight backpack causes the body to compensate for the extra weight. If you lean forward to compensate, it reduces your balance making it easier to fall. The extra weight can distort the natural curve of the middle and lower back, causing muscle strain.

Members of the UI Hospitals & Clinics Rehabilitation Services team recommend you carry no more than ten percent of your weight in a backpack. If you weigh 150 pounds, you should carry no more than 15 pounds in a backpack.

Here are some additional recommendations from UI Health Care occupational therapists.

Tips on packing and carrying your backpack

A textbook can weigh 2 or 3 pounds. Snacks and drinks add a couple more. Keep it to the essentials.

Place heavier items closer to the back center and put lighter items out front. Secure items in compartments so they don’t shift.

Lift with your legs, bending at the knees, and not with your back. Don’t lift and wiggle at the same time.

Use both straps so your posture is even. Snug the straps to keep the backpack from slipping below your hip bone.

If you must carry more than the safe weight, carry a book outside the backpack or use a wheeled book bag.

Signs your backpack is too heavy

Your backpack is too heavy if:

  • It’s difficult to put on or take off.
  • You have pain from wearing it.
  • You feel tingling or numbness in your limbs.
  • Strap marks show on your shoulders.
  • Your posture changes while wearing it.

Stats on carrying an overweight backpack

  • 2,000 backpack-related injuries each year, according to a national ER poll
  • 55 percent carry loads greater than 10 percent of their body weight, according to a study of grade schoolers
  • 85 percent had discomfort and pain due to backpack use, according to a study of college students
  • 80 percent had less pain and body strain when they changed how they loaded and wore their backpacks, according to a study of middle schoolers
University of Iowa students can schedule an appointment with a provider at Student Health and Wellness online through their MyChart account or by calling 1-319-335-8394.
Last reviewed: 
July 2020

Interested in using our health content?