Your spine is made of 33 bones called vertebrae and between the vertebrae are discs that act as natural shock absorbers. When you incorrectly place a heavy weight on your shoulders, such as a schoolbag filled with books, the weight’s force can pull you in one direction. To compensate, you may bend forward at the hips or arch your back and this can cause the spine to twist and compress unnaturally.
Backpacks can’t be beaten for helping you to stay organized. Multiple compartments keep all your supplies and notes close at hand. Backpacks also have health benefits. Compared with shoulder bags, backpacks are better for carrying all those books and supplies because the weight of the pack is evenly distributed across your body and is supported by the strongest muscles in the body: the back and the abdominal muscles. But backpacks that are overloaded or not used properly can make for some heavy health problems.
Can Backpacks Cause Problems?
Teens who carry heavy backpacks sometimes also compensate for the extra weight by leaning forward; over time this can cause the shoulders to become rounded and the upper back to become curved. Because of the heavy weight, there’s a chance they may develop shoulder, neck and back pain.
If the backpack is worn over just one shoulder, or books are carried in a shoulder bag, it makes you lean to one side to offset the extra weight. You might develop lower and upper back pain and strain your shoulders and neck. Improper backpack use can lead to poor posture.
Tight, narrow straps that dig into your shoulders can pinch nerves and interfere with circulation and could cause tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and hands.
If you have to struggle to get your backpack on or off, if you have to lean forward to carry your pack or if you have back pain, then the way you are using your backpack (either its overall weight or the method you use to carry it) may need to be adjusted.
If you continue to have back pain or have numbness or weakness in your arms or legs, talk to your Chiropractor.
Here are a few tips that will help make your backpack work for you, not against you:
- Consider the construction. Before you buy a new bag, make sure it has two padded straps that go over your shoulders; the wider the straps, the better. A backpack with a metal frame (like the ones hikers use) may give you more support. Look for a backpack with a waist belt, which helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the body. Backpacks with multiple compartments can also help distribute the weight more evenly.
- Use your locker. Try not to load up on the textbooks for a full day’s classes. Make frequent locker trips to drop off heavy textbooks or the extras like gym clothes. Work out which are the nonessentials; if you don’t need an item until the afternoon, why carry it around all morning?
- Plan your homework. Plan ahead and spread your home work out over the course of the week so you won’t have to carry all your books home on the weekend.
- Limit your backpack load. It is recommended that people carry no more than 10% to 15% of their body weight in their packs. This means that if you weigh 50 Kg (8 stone), your backpack should weigh no more than 5 Kg (12 pounds). Use your bathroom scales to weigh your backpack and get an idea of what the proper weight for you feels like.
- Pick it up properly. As with any heavy weight, you should bend at the knees when lifting a backpack to your shoulders.
- Strengthen your core. A great way to prevent back injury is to strengthen the stabilizing muscles of your torso, including your lower back and abdominal muscles. Weight training, Pilates and yoga are all activities that can be effective in strengthening these core muscles.
So what’s the best way to carry a backpack? Learn from the hiking pros and wear both straps over your shoulders. Keep your load light enough so that you can easily walk or stand upright and pack your backpack with the heaviest items closest to your back.