Backpacks have become an indispensable part of our lives. Children use them to carry all of their books, stationary and other items to school, the military highly depends on them to carry loads that will ensure their survival, and now they’ve even become an important part of a commuter’s life. However, in spite of the conveniences that backpacks provide, they also contribute heavily to many serious back conditions.
A recent study was carried out by Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, who is a spinal and orthopedic surgeon at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine Center as well as a leading author on the subject (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30204924). The objective of the study was to find out how the forces of different backpack load weights impacted the spine, both in a neutral upright position and when the wearer was leaning 20° forward.
The study found that when the spine was in its neutral upright position, the weight of the backpack became seven times heavier than what its original weight is. When the posture of the spine was 20° forward, the force produced on the spine went from 7 to 11 times the original weight of the backpack load.
The reason why this occurs is because the back is S-shaped and not completely straight, and this means that the weight of the backpack load will cause pressure forces depending on where it is hitting the spine.
What Is the Recommended Maximum Backpack Weight?
While there isn’t an exact figure, as different people have different strengths and postures, there is a basic guideline that everyone can follow. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the maximum backpack weight that children can carry should be from 10 to 20% of the child’s body weight. Hansraj further adds that the maximum backpack weight for young adults should be 13 to 15% of their body weight, while for adults that already go to college, the weight can be from 15 to 20% of their body weight.
Other important Back Safety Tips
It’s not only the load of the backpack that you should be concerned with; your posture and the way you execute certain actions also play an important part. Here are a few tips to help prevent serious back conditions:
Proper posture is key to ensuring a healthy spine. A common rule of thumb is to keep your shoulders back, to have your ears above your shoulders, and to keep your chest open.
Always bend your knees when you lift objects from the floor. By simply bending over, you’re creating a lot of strain in the lower back, and this can lead to many complications in the long run.
Only pack the items that are necessary. For example, if you’re able to use digital textbooks in your school, opt for these as they will always be lighter than carrying a pile of books. Take full advantage of your lockers as well. This will allow you to store any extra items that you don’t need for your current class; you can always go back to your locker to retrieve those items while dispersing of others for the next class.
Don’t be tempted to try and carry as much load as possible in order to save multiple trips. While you might be able to save some time, you’re definitely not doing your back any favors.
The right types of exercises can also be effective at keeping your back healthy. Walking is considered one of the best exercises to improve posture and promote a healthy spine. Core strengthening exercises such as Pilates can also be very effective.
So, by loading your backpack prudently, focusing on good posture and best practices when picking up heavy objects and getting in a regular routine of the right type of exercises, you will be taking great strides in keeping your back in good condition.