Heavy Backpacks and Back Pain

Backpacks are a convenient way to tote things around. From carrying books and computers to hiking and gym clothes, backpacks are useful for carrying heavy loads of anything. While a backpack is better than a single-shoulder bag, there are risks associated with carrying heavy backpacks. Here's what you need to know about the relationship between heavy backpacks and back pain. 

How Heavy is the Backpack?

Do you know how much your or your child's backpack weighs? That might seem like a silly question, but it deserves your attention. Statistics from the Consumer Product Safety Commission reveal that over the past decade, reported cases of back problems from backpacks have increased by more than 300%.

The weight of backpacks doesn't stop with children. Many adults tote computers, files, and other items on their backs. To prevent injury, a full backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 20 percent of total body weight. This is a particularly stringent rule when it comes to children. 

Back Pain from Heavy Backpacks

Injuries from heavy backpacks are becoming widespread and are showing a lasting effect on our bodies. MRIs have shown that the amount of stress exerted on the spines of people wearing heavy backpacks for just a few hours was equal to the back stress without a backpack in an entire day! Increased stress on spinal structures due to a heavy backpack can lead to problems that are temporary, like an occasional backache or a tension headache, but it may also lead to long-term, chronic problems.

Some of the back problems from backpacks may include:

  • Upper back pain 
  • Tension headaches 
  • Neck and shoulder pain 
  • Lower back pain when standing
  • Changes in posture and gait 
  • Changes in spinal curvature

Choosing a Backpack

Chances are, you can't eliminate the need to use a backpack, but there are ways to reduce the risk of backpack pain and other problems related to carrying a backpack. The first step is to make sure you have the right bag. When buying a new backpack or when evaluating the one being used, consider the following recommendations from the American Chiropractic Association (ACA):

  • Size: A bag that's too small will dig in at the shoulders, but a backpack that hangs more than four inches below the waist is too big and will increase spinal stress. Also, a large backpack is often a heavy backpack—more room equals more "stuff" packed inside. 
  • Straps: Two straps are a must, and they must be adjustable. Wide straps distribute weight more evenly and are more comfortable. Padded straps add even more comfort to a heavy backpack. 
  • Compartments: These aren't just for the sake of convenience, making it easy to find heavy items quickly. They help reduce spinal stress by evenly distributing the weight of a heavy backpack. 
  • Fabric: The lighter, the better. Materials like leather are heavier than nylon, increasing the weight of a heavy backpack, even when empty.

How to Carry a Backpack

Even the highest quality, best-fitting backpack needs to be used correctly. Preventing back problems from backpacks involves not just providing the right bag, it also includes using and wearing it correctly.

To prevent injury, follow these tips to ensure that you and your children are carrying backpacks correctly:

  • >Monitor the bag's weight: According to the ACA, to prevent backpack back pain, a person's backpack should not weigh more than 5 to 10% of their body weight. This means that a teenager who weighs 100 pounds should never carry a bag weighing more than 5 to 10 pounds. 
  • Use both shoulder straps: A backpack should never be carried on only one shoulder. 
  • Adjust the straps: The shoulder straps should be comfortably snug. A heavy backpack that's not firmly worn on the shoulders can cause spinal misalignment and pain. Uneven straps can causes problems such as tension headaches.
  • Stand up straight when walking: A heavy backpack can cause you to bend over when walking, which is harmful to the lower back. Even when carrying a bag that's of an appropriate weight, healthy posture is needed to maintain the spinal curves and prevent back pain when standing.
  • Never text while carrying a backpack. Looking down to text while carrying a backpain puts you at increased risk of Text Neck, a chiropractic condition that can result in neck pain.

Redondo Beach Chiropractor for Backpack Pain

Heavy backpacks are one cause of back pain and back problems from backpacks are increasing among both children and adults. Chiropractors are able to diagnose and treat children as well as adults and provide care that focuses on pain relief as well as the prevention of re-injury.

If you have backpain from backpacks, your chiropractor may suggest a treatment plan including:

  • Chiropractic adjustment
  • Exercise for lower back pain
  • Chiropractic exercises and adjustment for shoulder pain
  • Physical therapy to strengthen the spinal muscles

Catalina Medical Center can help relieve your back pain today. Schedule an appointment to get a treatment plan for your back pain.