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Here’s how backpacks impact your posture

Here’s how backpacks impact your posture

Carrying a backpack on one shoulder or beyond reasonable weight can cause bad posture, leading to complications like neck pain, headache and muscle tension
People who carry a backpack on one shoulder or beyond reasonable weight can suffer from bad posture leading to complications like neck pain, headache and muscle tension
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K/Happiest Health

Shouldering responsibilities, they say, is part and parcel of adulting. However, the reality is that even from childhood, people get accustomed to shouldering quite a lot of burden, in the form of backpacks. From school to the office and while travelling, people carry almost everything they can in one little bag on their already prone shoulders. The backpack and its impact on posture is much spoken about. Bags do affect posture in a negative way, leading not just to discomfort or pain, but also long-term issues.

While carrying a bag, the natural equilibrium of the body is offset by its weight. That puts pressure on the spine, neck and shoulders, causing our body to shift its weight in order to maintain balance. If the bag is too heavy or bulky, it can strain our muscles.

Backpack size and posture

Bags that are too small or big for our bodies can also affect posture, but differently. A bag or backpack that is too small can force us to hunch forward to reach the contents, while a bag that is too big can cause us to slouch in order to avoid knocking into things.

“When you wear a big bag, your spine and lower back go into exaggerated lumbar lordosis [exaggerated inward curve of the spine] and there is a compensatory forward bend of the upper back which is called exaggerated thoracic kyphosis,” says Dr Dilip Chand Raja, spine surgeon, Fortis Hospital, Chennai, India.

These habits can cause a strain on our spine and neck as well as the muscles around it, leading to discomfort and pain.

Single-shoulder backpack and posture

Many people choose tote bags, duffel bags or briefcases/suitcases as their work essentials. Carrying a bag or backpack on one shoulder, as opposed to both, can lead to an uneven distribution of weight, and the body will compensate by raising the opposite hip, offsetting posture.

Although people are aware of some of the ills of using tote, duffel or suitcase bags, they tend to overlook the hazards.

“If you are applying uneven pressure to your vertebrae, the bone will not develop normally and you are also excessively loading the spine which means that the spinal columns will further get shortened,” explains Dr Raja.  “When you are standing in an abnormal posture, the load on the already loaded muscles will be more, causing fatigue.” 

Taking weight off your shoulders

It is essential to choose the right type of bag. A backpack is an excellent choice as it maintains posture close to equilibrium by distributing weight evenly across both shoulders. One must ensure that the bag’s weight is within a reasonable limit.

“The NCERT [National Council of Educational Research and Training] in India is recommending that you should carry only 10% of your body weight,” says Dr Raja. “School bags should have both the shoulder straps, which must be wide and made from fabric material. This is because it distributes the weight across both shoulders. It is very simple. When I give you a 10-kilogram suitcase having a wide cushion handle, you will be able to lift it very comfortably. If the same suitcase is tied with a rope, you will be unable to lift it comfortably.”

Although bags or backpacks play a significant role in our daily lives, it is important to be mindful of their impact on our posture. By choosing the right type of bag and ensuring that its weight is within a reasonable limit, we can have a good posture, avoiding discomfort and pain. Additionally, it is important to take frequent breaks and switch sides when carrying a heavy bag to avoid overuse injury.


  • Poor posture can lead to several health problems, including neck or back pain, headaches and muscle tension.
  • Carrying a backpack or bag on only one shoulder can lead to an uneven distribution of weight and bad posture.
  • A backpack is an excellent choice as it distributes weight evenly across both shoulders.
  • Take frequent breaks and switch sides when carrying a heavy tote or duffel bag to avoid overuse injury.

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