Exercises to Prevent Shoulder Pain From a Backpack

Couple on hike, resting on rock with backpacks, rear view
Two hikers rest during a hike. (Image: Mike Powell/DigitalVision/Getty Images)

The area called the shoulder includes two major bones – the humerus, or upper arm bone, and the scapula, or shoulder blade. In addition, the clavicle, or collarbone, is connected to the front part of the shoulder. All of these bones are held together and supported by tendons, ligaments and muscles. Four muscles on the scapula also pass around the shoulder; their tendons join to create a structure called the rotator cuff. A backpack can put pressure on any of these structures and cause shoulder pain.

Backpacks

Whether a backpack is used by a hiker, a traveler or a schoolchild, it should fit the person, be worn on both shoulders and not be used to carry too much weight. An overloaded backpack not only puts too much pressure on the shoulder, it disperses extra weight on the hip, knee and ankle.

Rotator Cuff Exercises

Shoulder exercises can strengthen muscles, promote range of motion and stretch muscles that are tight. The rotator cuff stabilizes the shoulder, and it is important to strengthen that group of muscles. Internal and external rotation are good exercises for the rotator cuff. Stand near a wall. Bend the elbow to 90 degrees and keep the elbow close to the body, with the lower arm parallel to the floor. Press the palm into the wall for 10 seconds; repeat on other side. For an external rotation, follow the same steps but use the back of the hand rather than the palm.

Shoulder Shrugs and Wall Pushups

To help stabilize the shoulder blade, stand with your arms at your sides, holding a light dumbbell in each hand. Your palms should face the body. Keep your arms straight and shrug your shoulders upward toward the ears. Pause and lower the shoulder; repeat 10 times. Wall pushups are another shoulder exercise. Stand about 18 inches from the wall. Place your hands at shoulder level with palms flat on the wall. Slowly lower yourself toward the wall, then return to the starting position.

Considerations and Warnings

Talk to your doctor before starting a shoulder exercise program. Always warm up before an exercise session to decrease the risk of injury. A backpack should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight, according to the website The Athletic Advisor. Use both straps at all times; shoulder straps should be padded. Use a waist strap to help disperse the load, and lighten the backpack load whenever possible.

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