Backpacks are an essential accessory for children and adults alike. Whether you or your child is attending school, or you just need a convenient bag to carry your stuff, backpacks are always being used in our daily lives.
However, backpacks are known to cause risks to our spine health if not worn improperly. Approximately 43 million students in the United States suffer damage from neglecting backpack safety. With all the items we need to lug around daily, backpacks can become quite heavy. This pressure on the back can result in damaging health effects as our spine is affected.
Proper backpack usage, from sizing to loading, is one of many lifestyle habits that can affect your health in the short and long term. Even at a young age, improper backpack usage can result in health issues from spine misalignment to even neck sprains. Whether you are a student needing to carry your books or a mother with baby supplies, it’s important to be aware of backpack safety so you and your family can live happy and healthy lives.
How Do Backpacks Affect Health?
Backpack safety is crucial for maintaining good health. Various problems can occur from wearing a backpack incorrectly, which can cause issues later in life. Your backpack and spine health go hand-in-hand, among other aspects that affect your overall health and wellness.
The back bears the most impact from backpacks, but the effects can even travel up to the shoulders and neck. Discomfort from the back can also radiant down to the legs if severe enough. Back health affects our body’s functionality greatly, from mobility to even sleep. Without a healthy back, quality of life suffers immensely as daily activities become difficult to accomplish.
In general, back posture can lead to health issues as tension is added to the neck, shoulders, and spine. Now imagine there’s an overpowering weight forcing you to hunch over. Without backpack safety, it’s nearly impossible to have a healthy posture as a discomforting amount of weight is placed on the shoulders.
In addition, muscle sprains can occur due to improper backpack safety. When a heavy weight is placed on the shoulders, your muscles tend to tense up. This tension can lead to muscular pain growing up to the neck and down the back. If severe enough, mobility can be hindered and sleep can be disrupted.
It’s common knowledge that our physical health impacts our mental health. Stress and sleep are the two factors that greatly impact our mental health, and if we are not physically healthy those two things are what gets affected the most.
When you’re in daily pain or discomfort, the body’s stress response activates. This greatly impacts our mental health as we struggle to retain participation in our usual activities. If we cannot comfortably do the things we enjoy, our mental health takes a toll. Depression and anxiety can appear when our quality of life suffers from the pain in our backs.
Without a healthy amount of sleep, a person can become easily aggravated. It is also extremely frustrating when sleep becomes a difficult task due to pain. Our back health affects our ability to sleep as most people experience an increase in pain while they attempt to position themselves in bed. Most find their sleep to be stiff as they are limited in nightly movements due to an attempt to avoid pain.
The back pain that comes from improper backpack usage takes a larger toll than most people realize. Even at a young age, physical and mental health declines if backpack safety is not taken into account.
How To Wear Your Backpack Right
The wrong backpack can cause health issues, including injury. Teaching backpack safety to your children can go a long way in protecting their health in the future. No one should have to endure back pain, especially children.
Leading your children down a healthy path while protecting their backs starts with their backpack. Knowing the right way to wear a backpack helps to correct posture, prevent straining or injury, and develop healthy habits.
There are three elements to a backpack that you should pay attention to when picking out school or work accessories for you and your child:
Backpack safety begins with these elements. Paying attention to the design, fit, and packing of your backpack will ensure your back is protected and does not suffer from any damage.
Backpacks come in many different styles from color, shape, and strap design. Dr. Nick Broadhead (Integrated Wellness Bountiful’s expert in spine, back posture, chiropractic, and rehabilitation) put it best when he said backpacks come in good, better, and best. Some backpacks are good for back health, some are better, and some are the best for protecting your or your child’s back.
When it comes to how many straps are on your backpack, two-strap backpacks are the better option, but three is the best option. One strapped-backpacks, like messenger bags or sling backpacks, increase the amount of pressure on the back and shoulders as the weight of the backpack is not evenly distributed across the back.
Having a backpack with two straps splits the weight toll in half and evenly places it across two shoulders. However, the heavier the backpack the more the strain. For this reason, the best backpack choice is two straps on the shoulder and one strap around the waist (three-strapped backpacks, similar to hiking bags). Having the extra support with the waist straps helps the body remain in a correct alignment as a heavy weight is placed on your back.
When choosing a backpack, the goal is to protect your back and avoid suffering from pain. Even if the other, less safe backpacks are “cooler,” health and well-being should be the top priority.
It’s all too common for kids to be wearing backpacks that are either too small or too big. Sometimes it’s hard to spot if your backpack is the wrong size, but it’s important to take notice of how it fits on your back.
A backpack that is too small can result in hunched shoulders, which can lead to muscle spasms in the neck and upper back. Even armpit rashes can also occur as the straps rub up against the arms. A backpack that fits too big can cause an arched back, which results in low back and lumbar pain. Whether the backpack is too small or too big, both result in bad posture and back pain.
Backpacks should not hang down to the thighs, even if the load is light and there is barely any weight. Not only is walking uncomfortable as a backpack bangs up against the back of your legs, but your body is pushed off-center as the backpack literally drags you down.
The ensure your or your child’s backpack is the right fit, it’s best method is to measure by the waistline. Backpacks should rest comfortably in the middle of the back and should end anywhere between the waist and the belt. Anything higher results in a small fit, and anything lower is too large of a fit. The fit should be just right for back health to be protected.
It’s a common phenomenon for kids to overpack their backpacks for school. Focusing on the essentials (only bringing what is absolutely necessary) helps lighten the load on the back and takes away the damaging pressure. Less is more when it comes to protecting your health.
It is recommended a backpack should only be 10% of your body weight. That means a child weighing 100 pounds should only be carrying no more than 10 pounds in their backpack. The more weight in the backpack, the more health risks occur.
Sometimes, however, the weight cannot be avoided. For example, textbooks are one of the heaviest school items that students have to carry around on a daily basis. A single textbook could weigh up to 25 pounds! In cases like this, when the load cannot be lightened, loading techniques for backpack safety come in handy.
Keeping the body center helps with alignment so you can walk around with a healthy posture. When the backpack is really heavy, the body tends to be pushed back and becomes off-center. The order in which you load items into your backpack can help offset misalignments and keep the body center.
Items in a backpack should be evenly distributed to the best of your capability, meaning the weight should be centered on the back. To accomplish this, the heaviest items should be placed closest to the back, where the lighter items are closer to the outside of the backpack.
Having weight centered within your backpack helps to keep a straight posture and it offsets any additional strain from the weight. When the heavier items are placed further from the back, gravity takes over as you are pulled backward. As you walk, you are fighting against your backpack to keep up straight. This eventually leads to muscle tensions and sprains.
How To Treat Damage From Backpacks
Physical therapy and chiropractic care can help reverse the damage done by backpacks. Whether the spine is misaligned or muscles are sprained, seeking care from a health professional can help to relieve the pain and discomfort that came from improper backpack usage.
One of Integrated Wellness Bountiful’s many specialties is chiropractic care. Even if you or your child is not showing any active symptoms of spinal damage, a chiropractic screening can help identify if there are or will be any issues with the back. Chiropractic adjustments not only help to relieve pain, but they also help to prevent pain from occurring. It never hurts to get your back straightened!
If you are unsure what is the right approach, we are more than happy to consult with you about what is best for you and your family to live well. Schedule a consultation with us to learn more about backpack safety education from our back health expert!