Backpacks — Just mainstream or a recipe for health problems?

By Hiba Gardezi | 30 Aug, 2022

With August coming to an end, it’s back to school for many. With school come a lot of responsibilities on childrens’ shoulders, quite literally in the form of books and backpacks. Although this has become widespread and it isn’t uncommon to see a student stooping from the weight of books, science shows us that carrying such heavy loads does, in fact, have dangerous impacts for both young and old:

 

1.   Posture and spinal alignment 

This can be seen immediately as people often bend under the weight of their bags. According to a professional (Neel Anand, MD, professor of orthopedic surgery and director of spine trauma), “a telltale sign of a too-heavy backpack is when it pulls the child backward, causing them to lean forward at the hips or arch the back.” This not only compresses the spine, reducing balance and, thereby, increasing chances of injury but it can also lead to “misalignment of the spine and acceleration of the degenerative process of normal aging of the spine,” (board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician D’wan Carpenter, DO) while the exhausted muscles become increasingly susceptible to injury.

 

2.   Arthritis  

Source: chiropractoratlanta.com

As the weight of the backpack pushes down on the joints in the knees, hips and spine, it can lead to premature osteoarthritis.

 

3.   Headaches

Source: thehealthsite.com

Especially when a backpack is worn very low, it can further strain the neck muscles, causing headaches. As physical therapist and yoga instructor Lara Heimann says, “long -term use can compress cervical nerves, leading to numbness, tingling, and radiating pain at the neck and down the arms.”

 

4.   Weak core muscles

Source: gentlystrong.com

Leaning forward can strain the lower back and lead to weakened back and core muscles and resultant back pain.

While these threats exist for adults and children alike, they are more pronounced for younger people as their spines require support and protection while they grow. Furthermore, children are not as conscious of their posture and are more likely to adopt poor posture. However, there are some adjustments and solutions to make the situation less harmful:

 

1.   Monitor the weight of the backpack

Source: m.romwe.com

Backpacks should not be heavily loaded and limited to 10 to 15 percent of the child’s body weight as Dr. Ebraheim advises in order to stay safe from “multiple orthopedic problems.” To make this possible, children should make use of lockers, shelves, and organizational tools like folders so that they do not have to carry all their books and stationary at all times.

 

2.   Selecting a suitable bag 

Source: potterybarnkids.com

Lower hanging backpacks are heavier for the shoulders so we must ensure they do not hang too low, ideally two inches above the waist (American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons). Karena Wu, a physical therapist based in New York also calls attention to pockets, saying that the greater the number of inside pockets, the more the weight will be distributed. Wearing shoulder straps that are padded, wide and contoured to the body is beneficial. Furthermore, having a greater number of straps also helps by decreasing the pressure. Rolling backpacks may be an alluring alternative provided that they are light enough to be carried over flights of stairs.

 

3.   Wear correctly

Source: potterybarnkids.com

It is best to place the heavier items or books close to the back of the bag and when one is lifting a backpack that is heavy, it is important to use the legs and bend the knees. When carrying heavy loads, hip straps would be beneficial as they can distribute the weight. Both straps should be used and tightened as using only one side can lead to pain and spasms.

 


Cover image via @indiatoday.in

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