Don't Be Weighed Down By Your Backpack.

Physiotherapists remind students to lighten their load

Students can be tempted to cram their backpacks with textbooks, laptops, and anything else that fits. But, the Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) urges students to be mindful of their health when carrying their belongings.

To prevent long-term postural problems, pain and discomfort, backpacks should fit the individual, be worn properly, and not overloaded. Canadian school children risk their health and injury to their spines and arms by carrying heavy backpacks to school, which can cause chronic problems that linger into adulthood.

A large study in the Spine journal is part of a growing body of evidence associating back pain with backpacks. Of 1122 school-aged backpack users, 74.4 per cent had back pain, validated by significantly poorer general health, more limited physical functioning, and more bodily pain. The study also found that increased use of backpacks during the day, and increased weight in the backpack, were both associated with reports of back pain.

Students can minimize strain by using and fitting a backpack so that it works for them, rather than against them. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association makes the following recommendations regarding the selection and use of backpacks:

The shoulder straps should fit comfortably, allowing the arms to move freely and not dig in to the shoulders. Lightweight materials, padded straps, and a padded back will help reduce pressure and balance weight. A waist belt distributes some of the weight to the pelvis and keeps the pack centered. Compression straps will help keep the load closer to the carrier’s back, and stabilize the contents.

Shoulder straps should be adjusted so the bottom of the pack sits in the contour of the lower back, two inches above the waist. The pack should sit evenly in the middle of the back, not hanging toward the buttocks. Use both shoulder straps to centre the backpack between the shoulder blades and promote good posture. Using only one strap loads the entire weight of the bag over one shoulder, resulting in back pain and strain to the neck and shoulders.

Keep the weight manageable and store larger, heavier items closest to the back. A full backpack should never weigh more than 15 per cent of the carrier’s body weight. For example, someone weighing 115 lbs. (52 kg) should not carry more than 17 lbs. (7.8 kg). Carrying heavy loads incorrectly can lead to back strain or even chronic problems.

Maintain good posture at all times, standing tall with your head and neck aligned with your shoulders. Keeping your shoulders pulled gently back and down will help. Try not to slouch whether sitting or standing, this can lead to faulty posture and weakened muscles contributing to spinal pain.

If you are experiencing pain, consult a health care professional. Physiotherapists are primary health care professionals who help people of all ages and lifestyles gain and maintain their desired level of active living and physical mobility. With their applied knowledge and understanding of the human body in action,physiotherapists are able to help you to increase your mobility, relieve pain, build strength, improve balance and cardiovascular function. Physiotherapists not only treat injuries, they also teach you how to prevent the onset of pain or injury that can limit your activity.

Visit the official CPA website for more health info