With back-to-school quickly approaching many of us are pulling out the backpacks or shopping for a new one for the upcoming school year. Even if you’re not a student, many people wear backpacks to carry all their essentials for the day. Over time these backpacks can cause strain on our spines and can lead to back problems. From Kindergarten to high school and onto post-secondary school many students carry a backpack for a significant part of each day. Carrying excessive weight on the back can cause wear-and-tear on the joints, ligaments and muscles in the back and hips. It can alter our posture and while our body tries to compensate for this extra weight we may experience stiffness, loss of range of motion, pain and strain.
A study from Dr. Kenneth Hansraj a spinal and orthopedic surgeon at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine Centre showed that “the amount of force placed on a spine in a neutral position is about 7.2 times the weight of the backpack. If the spine is slumped forward about 20 degrees, the amount of force increases to 11.6 times the weight of the bag. Based on this analysis, a 50-pound child who is carrying a 5-pound backpack would be putting 36 pounds of pressure on their spine if it was in a neutral position. If they were slumped forward 20 degrees, the bag would put more pressure on the spine than they weigh-58 pounds.”
Injury to the spine from wearing a backpack is a serious issue so what can we do to reduce the damage a backpack can cause?
When shopping for a backpack be sure to get one with 2 padded straps that go over your shoulders. Wider straps will be best. Never carry your backpack over one shoulder as it will lead to imbalance and can cause muscle strain. Try to select a backpack that has a waist belt which helps spread out the weight of the backpack and will help decrease neck and upper back pain. Be sure the backpack fits properly. A backpack should have tightened straps to allow it to fit close to the body and should rest evenly in the middle of the back.
Try whenever you can to help your child lessen the load of his/her backpack. Be sure to organize the contents of the backpack so the heaviest items are on the inside closest to your back. Use the side compartments for water bottles, school supplies etc. to try to spread out the weight of the pack. A 2017 study published in the journal of Applied Ergonomics confirmed that a student should not carry any more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight in their backpack. Encourage your child to use his/her locker to store books and items that are not being used for each class. Most importantly, teach your family the importance of proper posture and a healthy, strong body and ask them if they have back/neck pain from carrying their backpack. If so, seek physiotherapy or massage therapy early to help ease pain and strengthen back and core muscles before it becomes a chronic issue that can cause long term back injury.