Backpacks and Briefcases Can Cause Some Serious Pain

Backpacks and back pain

Part of the excitement of a new school year is getting the perfect backpack. Every kid wants a cool way to carry their iPhones, tablets, laptops and, of course, heavy textbooks.

A backpack should make lugging gear easier, but one that is poorly designed or worn improperly can strain your child’s back. Over time, wearing a backpack incorrectly can lead to scoliosis (curved spine), tension headaches and back pain.

Backpacks can be bad for adult backs too, and they aren’t the only offender. Adults haul excessive junk around in briefcases, messenger bags and purses. Heavy grocery bags can also cause problems. Extra weight can ruin posture and stress the lower back, upper back and neck. The end result: people suffering needlessly from back pain.

Lighten the load with these seven strategies.

  1. Drop some weight. The maximum you should carry is 10 percent of your body weight. That’s about all your frame can hold without pushing your body out of alignment. So, put the bag on a scale to see how it measures up. If it’s too heavy, ditch all the nonessentials.
  2. Keep it balanced. Carrying a shoulder bag — or wearing a backpack with only one strap — throws off your posture and causes muscles in your spine to curve under the pressure of the added weight. Avoid lower back pain by wearing a backpack that evenly distributes the weight, or opt for a messenger bag that fits diagonally across your body.
  3. Switch sides. If you must carry a single-strap bag or sport a backpack on only one shoulder, periodically switch sides. Even a hand-held purse can be problematic if you don’t regularly move it from your right hand to your left.
  4. Look for wide straps. The best backpacks have wide, padded straps that won’t dig into your shoulder, plus hip and chest belts to transfer the weight. Adjust the straps so they’re snug and the backpack fits right against the back. If kids don’t wear the backpack properly, or if it hangs too low, it can cause muscle strain by hyperextending the back or forcing the child to lean forward.
  5. Aim high. Leave packs on counters, tabletops or desks, so kids can slip them on while standing—and avoid injury. Never, ever, swing a backpack over your shoulder.
  6. Keep it close. Carrying your load closer to the body reduces the amount of sway and stress placed on the spinal muscles.
  7. Strengthen your core. To reduce back strain, engage your abdominal muscles (like when you’re zipping up a tight pair of pants). Then center your weight over your feet with your shoulder blades pulled down and back.

If your child is already experiencing back pain or neck and shoulder strain, see a health care professional. By getting the spine in check when they’re young, they will be less likely to have back issues when they get older.

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What type of book bags do you prefer for your kids? What have you tried to lighten the load for your kids and for yourself?

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