October 16, 2006
Therapists show students how to avoid injury by lightening load
By Susan Christensen
Health and Research News
FLOWOOD, Miss.—Can a pack throw your back out of whack?
That depends on what it weighs and how you wear it, says Susan Geiger, a physical therapist at Methodist Outpatient Rehabilitation in Flowood.
A backpack that doesn’t fit properly or is too heavy can lead to injury, she said.
“One problem with ill-fitting or overstuffed backpacks is they can lead kids to arch their backs or lean forward or sideways,” Geiger said. “These harmful postures can cause spinal compression, improper alignment and disc problems.”
To head off such injuries, Methodist Rehab staff recently staged two backpack screening programs to show students how to lighten their loads. And
Geiger said she found quite a few kids were struggling under burdens too heavy for their young backs.
“A backpack should never weigh more than 15 percent of your body weight, yet we saw several kids who were toting excess pounds,” she said. “This over-packing is dangerous because it can strain and fatigue muscles and soft tissue leaving kids more vulnerable to injury. It also can compress nerves in the shoulders and arms.”
She said signs that a backpack load should be lightened include red marks on the shoulders, back pain and numbness in the arms.
When shopping for backpacks, Geiger said students should look for features such as padded and contoured shoulder straps and a waist belt.
“The straps help reduce pressure on the chest and shoulders and the waist belt helps distribute some of the load to the pelvis,” she said. “I would also recommend a compression strap to hold down articles in your backpack so you’re not knocked off balance by shifting weight.”
Once you find a backpack with the right features, Geiger recommends taking time to get a proper fit. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, the bottom of your pack should rest in the curve of your lower back – never more than four inches below your waistline.
Here are some other tips for safe backpack use:
Make sure the backpack fits. Shoulder straps should rest comfortably on the shoulders and under the arms, so that the arms can move freely. The bottom of the pack should rest on the contour of the lower back. The pack should "sit" evenly in the middle of the back, not "sag down" toward the buttocks.
Wear both straps. Using only one strap causes one shoulder to bear the weight of the bag. Wearing both straps distributes the weight more evenly.
Pack with Care. Load heaviest items closest to your back and arrange backpack contents so they don’t slide around.
Don’t let your backpack be a stumbling block. In a recent study, the vast majority of backpack injuries that required an emergency room visit were the result of someone tripping over a backpack.
Distribute the Load. Carry only items necessary for the day’s activities. If your must-haves overload your backpack, carry a book or other item in your arms.
Use caution with wheeled backpacks. If you choose a wheeled backpacks, look for an extended handle that is long enough so that you are not forced to twist and bend, and that the wheels are large enough so the backpack doesn't topple.
Source: American Physical Therapy Association,American Occupational Therapy Association