The Importance of Backpack Safety
As school approaches, backpack safety is something that should be on people’s minds. This is also applicable to hikers and backpackers! Generally, most people don’t think about backpack safety, or the effects of improperly wearing and using a backpack. But if worn improperly, a backpack can strain the shoulders, back, and neck. Sometimes, to compensate for the weight, people will lean forward. This can lead to adopting positions that cause malalignments of the spine, and can cause fatigue and weakness in the muscles. The result of this is a misaligned spine and poor posture.
Here are some tips on how to properly wear and use a backpack to prevent injury:
- Keep the weight close - put the heaviest items closest to your back and the lighter items farther. If the heavier weight is farther, it makes your muscles have to work harder. Also, make sure to distribute the weight by not putting everything in the main compartment. Utilize the side pockets!
- No more than four inches - Your backpack should not hang more than four inches below your waist, as it will pull your shoulders back. Make sure that the straps are comfortable below and on your shoulders
- Wear it on both shoulders - wearing only one of the straps puts more pressure on one side of the body, which can cause muscle strain, and can injure your lower and upper back, and strain your shoulders and neck. Make sure to wear both straps to evenly distribute the weight. Packs with two straps are also better than over-the-shoulder bags with one strap, as these can cause muscle strains and more.
- Add some padding - make sure to look for backpacks with two wide and well padded shoulder straps. This will help protect the shoulder and better distribute the weight. Tight, narrow straps can dig into your shoulders can cause numbness and tingling, and even weakness in your arms and hands.
- Wear the waist belt - choose a backpack with a waist belt, and use it! This helps transfer some of the weight from the back and shoulders, to the hips and torso
- Clean it regularly - make sure to regularly go through your backpack and ensure that everything there is stuff that you need to get rid of excess weight
- Try some wheels - if allowed, try a backpack with wheels. It gets rid of any and all pack weight issues!
- Keep it light - wearing a backpack that is more than 10-20% of your body weight can cause major harm. Use a scale to make sure it’s within range (for example, if you’re 120 pounds, you shouldn’t carry a backpack weighing more than 12-24 pounds). Try to use your locker often, or if you’re in college, take trips back to your room. If you can’t get around being able to leave books elsewhere, take some books out and carry them in your arms! Also, wearing heavy backpacks make it more likely that you will fall, usually on stairs or other places where the weight puts the wearer off balance.
- Pick it up properly - as with all heavy things, make sure to lift with your legs to prevent back strain.
- Strengthen your core - strengthening the stabilizing muscles of your core (the lower back and abdominal muscles) is a great way to prevent back injury! There are several activities that are effective in strengthening these muscles, such as: weight training; pilates; and yoga.
Fun fact: September 19th this year is National School Backpack Awareness Day, sponsored by the American Occupational Therapy Association. Visit their site to get more great tips on backpack safety!
If you have an old injury that you hoped would heal on its own, or any aches and pains that won’t go away, book a free consultation today to get back to feeling like your old self!
Backpack safety isn't old school. ATI. (2021, August 18). https://www.atipt.com/blog/backpack-safety-isnt-old-school.
Hirsch, L. (Ed.). (2020, May). Backpack basics (for teens) - Nemours Kidshealth. KidsHealth. https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/backpack.html.