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Backpacks: Don’t Let Them be a Pain in the Back!

As the summer draws to a close and another school year is right around the corner, it’s time for back to school shopping. The Canadian Physiotherapy Association (CPA) has compiled some important tips for picking the right back pack. Check out their information below and enjoy the rest of your summer!

Carrying an overloaded backpack or wearing one improperly over time can result in:

  • Fatigue and strain in the muscles and soft tissues of the neck, back and shoulders leading to pain and poor posture
  • Spinal compression and/or improper alignment, leaving the back vulnerable to injury
  • Stress or compression of the shoulders and arms causing tingling, numbness and/or weakness in the arms or hands

What do I look for in a backpack?

Reduce strain by using a backpack that works for you rather than against you. The CPA recommends the selection and use of backpacks with the following features:

  • Padded back – to reduce pressure and prevent the pack’s contents from digging into your back
  • Padded, contoured, shoulder and chest straps – to help reduce pressure and balance the weight. (Look for a backpack with thickly padded adjustable shoulder straps (2 inches wide) and an extra hip strap. Adjust the shoulder straps so the bottom of the pack sits two inches above your waist)
  • Waist belt or hip strap – to distribute some of the load to the pelvis and off your shoulders. The waist belt sends the weight of your pack down through your legs which are equipped to carry increased weight, preventing you from getting tired as quickly
  • Compression straps – on the sides or bottom of the backpack to compress the contents of the backpack and stabilize the articles inside (Pack by weight, not size and always place the heaviest items closest to your back)
  • Reflective material – to increase your visibility to others at night.
  • Weight – look for one made of lightweight material. When full a backpack should not be more than 15% of your body weight. (If you feel out of breath walking with your pack it’s too heavy!)

How do I wear my backpack correctly?

Backpacks are designed to distribute the load evenly. Worn correctly and not overloaded, a backpack is supported by some of the strongest muscles in the body: the back and abdominal muscles.
Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • When wearing a backpack, stand tall with your head and neck in line with your shoulders and use both shoulder straps to help evenly distribute the weight of the pack. Using only one strap loads the entire weight of the body over one shoulder. Over time, this can create back pain as well as neck and shoulder strain.
  • The shoulder straps should fit comfortably and not dig in to the shoulder or arm, allowing the arms to move freely. The bottom of the pack should rest in the contour of the lower back. The pack should “sit” evenly in the middle of the back, not “sag” toward the buttocks. Backpacks for hiking and camping provide additional support through frames and special straps.

Signs of an improper fit or improper use of a backpack include:

  • Pain when wearing the backpack
  • Tingling or numbness in the arms
  • Red marks on the shoulders

These signs/symptoms may warrant further evaluation by a physiotherapist. Feel free to contact us at one of our two locations or from our website.

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