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Back to School: Backpack Safety

Updated: Feb 5

Back to School: Backpack Safety Banner

Considering the practicality and convenience offered through our most fundamental piece of gear, many of us often overlook the negative effects a backpack can have on our health if worn or packed improperly. Over time, incorrectly wearing and even packing your backpack can do serious harm to your health, specifically your neck and back muscles and your spine. As backpacks have become increasingly popular for hauling laptops, tablets and other heavier equipment, our bodies are often left to suffer.

Younger adults, whose bodies are still developing, will need all the support they can get. Putting a lot of weight on the frame can cause the spine to compress unnaturally, which can lead to serious health complications down the road. Adults are not immune to strains of improperly carrying a backpack either. Though an adult's core muscles are more developed, carrying an unnecessary load, typically more than 15% of your body weight, can lead to serious strain on various muscles, ligaments and joints. By following these safety tips you’ll help protect your, and your child’s, body from the potential implications of improper backpack use.

It’s all in the fit

Your backpack should not be wider than your torso. The shoulder strap anchor points shouldn’t extend beyond one to two inches below the top of your shoulders. And the bottom of your bag shouldn’t extend any further than one to two inches below your waist line. When fastening the straps, they should fit snugly to the torso/shoulders.

The more padding, the better

Choose a backpack with wide, padded adjustable shoulder straps and a padded back panel to help minimize direct pressure on the back.

Strap in

It’s important to wear both shoulder straps as well as the waist strap to help balance weight distribution. While it seems like a convenient thing to do, only throwing one strap over the shoulder will offset your center of balance, causing you to excessively lean the opposite direction to prevent the bag from falling. This will increase the likelihood of lower and upper back pain and strain to your shoulders and neck.

Ditch the unnecessary weight

We recommend carrying no more than 10-15% of your body weight in the bag. Carrying capacity of the bag is especially important. By carrying more, you are forcing your shoulders, neck and back to work beyond their desired capacity and can potentially put them at risk for injury. For example, for a 90 pound child heading off to school, the heaviest the bag should weigh is 14 pounds. A good rule of thumb is that if you are having trouble lifting the bag to position it on your back, it’s probably too heavy.

Pack with a purpose

Choose a backpack with multiple compartments to help balance the load. Be sure to pack the heavier items lower and towards the center of the bag – near your center of gravity.

Posture is key

When picking up your bag, keep your spine in a neutral (non-hunched) position and lift using your legs. When carrying items, be sure to have the pack fit snugly against your body to reduce unwanted swaying, shifting of your items, or friction to your skin.

Whether you are packing up for another day at school, commuting to your job or heading out on the adventure trail, be sure your bag is equipped to handle the load and packed in a manner that won’t damage your body. Anyone with back or neck pain knows how restricting it can be on your daily life, so do your body a favor and think twice before attempting to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Be sure to consult with your primary care physician or other medical professionals in regards to your medical concerns. This text cannot and should not replace advice from the patient's healthcare professionals. Any person who experiences symptoms or feels that something may be wrong should seek individual professional help for evaluation and/or treatment. This post is for informative purposes only.

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