When I had to purchase a new backpack a few semesters ago, I spent time figuring out how I wanted the backpack to look so I could easily identify it with low vision. However, one of the main things I thought about was choosing a backpack that would be appropriate for my chronic pain and that I could easily carry without hurting myself. I have Chiari Malformation and was also in a car accident, so I live with daily back, neck, and shoulder pain, so choosing a backpack that I could use was important. While I recognize that everyone experiences pain differently, here are my tips for choosing a backpack with chronic pain, based on my own experiences.
Think about how much you need to bring with you
One of the things that helped me the most when I went shopping for a new backpack was thinking about how many items I bring to school or class every day. This semester, I have anywhere from one to three classes on a given day, and try not to bring any more items than I need. For example, I don’t need to bring my laptop to my classes that meet in the computer lab, so I can get away with using a smaller bag compared to the classes that require me to bring a laptop. Knowing exactly what I need to bring for each class or particular day has helped me avoid taking unnecessary items to class and helped to make my backpack lighter.
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Find a bag with a solid bottom
The bottom of my backpack is sturdy and does not cave in when items are added, which helps a lot with keeping the bag from feeling incredibly helpful. This also means that when it is filled with items, I can prop it next to a wall and not have to worry about bending over as much to pick it up. Also, items are less likely to break the backpack and cause items to spill out on the floor.
Be careful of heavy outer materials
Some of the backpacks I’ve seen on the market have a heavy outer material. For people choosing a backpack with chronic pain, these materials can make a backpack much heavier and cause more strain than traditional backpacks. One of the ways I test to see if weight will be an issue is by putting the backpack on my shoulders in the store to see if it feels heavy, or by checking the weight online. My current backpack weighs a little over a pound and is comfortable for me to carry around.
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Have easily accessible pockets and zippers
I don’t have a lot of strength in my hands, so I like to make sure that I can easily open/close zippers and pockets so that items don’t end up spilling out or being difficult to access. Also, this helps me avoid putting items in my backpack and forgetting about them- at one point in high school, I put a half-eaten breakfast cracker in my backpack, forgot about it, and found it during my third year of college!
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Look for easily adjustable and padded straps
Having quality backpack straps is one of the most important things for choosing a backpack with chronic pain, and I love my backpack’s padded straps that don’t put a lot of tension on my shoulders. I also have them appropriately adjusted for my height/shoulders so that they fit properly, and that has made a world of difference, as has having them adjusted evenly. I recommend running a web search to figure out how to adjust backpack straps to your personal preferences.
Consider a backpack with wheels
In high school, I had to carry a lot more items with me than I do in college, and got special permission from my principal to use a backpack with wheels. At first, I felt a bit weird using a wheeled backpack, but quickly discovered how much it helped me with my chronic pain. I wouldn’t hesitate to use the same type of backpack again in college if I needed to carry notebooks or larger items, but since my degree program is almost entirely paperless, I haven’t had to do this.
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If relevant, ask for an accessible locker
I had accommodations in middle and high school for using a modified locker due to low vision. These accommodations included an alternative lock since I couldn’t see the numbers on the combination lock, as well as a bottom locker away from crowds. This was extremely helpful as I didn’t have to try and reach the top locker and could easily store items inside.
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Choosing a backpack with chronic pain wasn’t overly difficult for me once I figured out what I needed, and I was excited to find a backpack that could easily fit everything I needed. I love my backpack and am glad that I can easily bring it anywhere I need to go, from class to a conference to a weekend trip. I hope these tips for choosing a backpack with chronic pain are helpful for other students!