Backpacks and Back Pain

Students have said goodbye to summer and are finding their rhythm for the new school year. Some are excited about new teachers and making new friends while others are dreading the thought of homework. Just thinking about completing equations and scanning poetry is enough to give some students a headache. But headaches aren’t the only thing students have to worry about. Big heavy backpacks can cause aches and pains of a different kind.

Most students don’t give much thought to backpacks. They might show preference for a certain design, pattern, or color but that’s about it. After all, a backpack is merely a vessel for all of that terrible homework handed out by cruel teachers. So students load their backpacks until they’re practically bursting at the seams, and solemnly lug them to and from school unaware of how a backpack can affect their backs.

How can backpacks hurt your back?

Heavy backpacks can cause acute back pain, lead to chronic back problems, and cause poor posture. But it’s not limited to back pain. Overloaded backpacks may strain muscles and joints, cause neck pain, and can lead to headaches. Heavy backpacks can also pinch or strain nerves at points of contact.

A backpack with too much weight may pull students backward. Students will then lean forward to compensate, which can cause unnatural compression of the vertebrae and discs in the back.

Another common cause of back pain is uneven weight distribution. If a student carries a backpack on one shoulder, or the pack is loaded more on one side than the other, he or she may end up leaning in one direction.

Heavy packs may also affect a student’s balance, which could leading to other injuries.

Ways to help prevent back pain from backpacks

The risks of a heavy backpack are real. But there are a few things you can do to prevent pain and injury from backpacks. Here are some tips for students of any age.

  • Carry only what you need to. Store heavy books and binders in lockers, desks, etc. Leave the heavy non-essentials at home. The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recommends that students carry a pack weight no greater than 10-15% of their own body weight.
  • Look for a backpack with good features. A plastic insert, for example, can provides extra support, and a waist belt can help properly distribute the weight. Find a backpack with features like wide, padded shoulder straps, a waist belt, a frame, stay, or insert, and load lifters. Most basic school bags offer little or no structure or support; they’re basically a sack with straps.
  • Make sure your backpack fits properly, and wear it properly. You want your backpack to fit firmly against your back and shoulders, and use both shoulder straps. If you have a backpack with a waist belt, try and put the weight on your hips to take some of the weight off the shoulders.
  • When loading your backpack, distribute weight in the correct places. Make sure it is centered, with the heaviest items closer to your back.
  • Lift heavy backpacks by crouching and lifting with the legs rather than bending over at the waist and pulling up. This can help prevent back injuries.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Strengthen your back with back exercises.
  • Consider chiropractic care. Millennium Chiropractic is a chiropractic sports medicine and rehab clinic in the MANA network. Millennium Chiropractic provides comprehensive chiropractic care, including wellness care. If you or your child experiences back pain, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment!

    The doctor can fit the student with their backpack as well as treat the child. 

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