Differentiate between backpack pain and injury

For students of all ages, a backpack that is too big or too heavy may lead to discomfort. No sweat! This is simply the body’s way of communicating. It is important to be able to differentiate pain and injury, especially when it comes to carrying your backpack around everywhere.

To help us explain more, we also teamed up this back-to-school season with Ariel Desjardins-Charbonneau, registered Physiotherapist and university professor in the Montreal area.

Pain vs injury

Not necessarily the same thing!

Pain is a signal given by the body to tell us something is potentially wrong. Our nervous system is notifying us when our brain thinks our ability to withstand physical stress is lower than the stress we are actually experiencing.

An injury, on the other hand, is an actual lesion of the tissue. Stress imposed on the body is greater than the body’s ability to adapt to it.

Some people can experience pain without necessarily being injured; and vice versa, where some people may have an injury without experiencing pain.

Two main types of injury

  • A traumatic injury is usually the result of a specific impact or event that causes acute pain.
  • An overuse injury usually has subtle symptoms that develop slowly over time and last for a long time. They are common among athletes who perform repetitive movements.
Whenever students start a new physical activity or a new movement in their daily routines, the body may not be accustomed to it. When they start to experience pain, it is the body telling them this is new and they should pay attention to it. One of these “new” routines in our lives is the transition from summer activities to back to school. Students can experience pain in many areas of the body: often in the shoulders, neck or lower back.
Based out of Montreal, Quebec, Desjardins-Charbonneau holds a Master’s Degree from the University of Montreal. He is also a Fellow of the CAMPT.

Ask them the question

Ask them: “What has changed recently in your life?” From that point, we can find the origin of the problem. For example, when your student starts to regularly wear their backpack and pain arises, we can try lowering the straps for them to see if the pain starts to go away.

Wearing the backpack

Posture is very important. Slightly raising the shoulders can help. However, posture itself is not necessarily a serious problem. We should vary our posture often. An example of this is looking down at our laptop for a long period of time, which can lead to pain and be problematic in the long run if we continuously maintain this positioning.
Tracker Mega Value Backpack
Tracker Mega Value Backpack

When will the pain go away?

School is out! Now students get a break from their backpacks or they wear them less. As soon as school restarts, wearing a backpack can be a “new” activity for the body. The pain is actually normal for the first few days.

Think of a workout – muscles are often sore after the fact. The time frame is approximately 2 to 7 days until they are back to normal and fully ready for another workout.

Wearing a backpack can also be considered a workout! After 7 to 10 days, things should clear up. If the pain does not decrease after that time, it is time to see a health professional.


Depending where your child may be experiencing pain, it is important to determine what caused it. Some adjustments can help, without overdoing it!

  • Make sure your child does not slouch while sitting for long periods of time.
  • Slightly elevate their shoulders while wearing the backpack.
  • Avoid excess pressure on the outside of the shoulders.
As carrying a full backpack for long periods of time can put strain on your shoulders, these two backpacks are equipped with sternum straps to provide support for the rest of your body.
Tracker San Francisco Backpack
High Sierra Access 2.0 Backpack

Three takeaways this back to school season

  • Pain is normal
  • Pain should go away after two weeks; if it persists, the body needs help
  • Bad posture does not necessarily exist. A bad habit is maintaining the same posture for long periods of time

For more tips and tricks, take a look at Ariel’s full video here! (English subtitles)