For students of all ages, backpacks are an essential piece of equipment. They hold books, lunches, and sports uniforms. Backpacks aren’t just for children either — indeed, many of my patients still use them when traveling between home and the office.
As a chiropractor, I’m particularly aware of the damage that strain can cause the back. I want to share a few basic rules for backpack safety that can keep your back strong and healthy.
- Your loaded backpack should be no more than 10 percent of your body weight. This is a great rule of thumb to follow — it keeps the weight manageable and prevents excess strain on the spine. Oftentimes, if a backpack weighs more than this, we end up pushing our heads forward to balance out and keep from toppling over backwards. This can distort the curvature of our spines, and lead to long-term degeneration. It also causes headaches and loss of nerve function. Yikes!
- Heavier items should go directly against the back, with lighter items further away from our bodies. The closer the heavy items are to our backs, the less we’re being pulled backwards. This helps us keep our balance and center of gravity as close to normal as possible.
- Use your hands. If you have a number of books or other heavy items to carry, put some in your backpack, and carry some with your hands.
- Use your locker or storage space. When you get to school (or work) unload what you don’t need to carry with you all day. Rather than using your backpack as home base, you can make pit stops at your locker to pick up what you need for the next class.
- Buy a backpack for function, not fashion. When I was in chiropractic school, I used to put all my books in a shoulder bag. It looked good, but I got headaches and was constantly at the clinic getting adjusted myself. Learn from my mistake! When it comes to backpacks, cool isn’t worth it. I recommend buying either a backpack with a belt that clips around your waist to help more evenly distribute weight, or a rolling backpack you can pull along behind you if need be.
None of this is rocket science, but following these guidelines can really help you or your children have a healthier relationship with your backs. I also suggest a regular stretching routine, including stretching back over a big exercise ball. This helps keep our spines flexible, and counteracts the typical forward pulling we usually engage in when wearing a heavy backpack. It’s also fun :)