Packing Pain: How to Avoid Backpack-Related Injuries

Posted by Dr. Scott Wilson | 14-Sep-2019

With the school year back in full swing, your kids are probably lugging around those heavy backpacks all over again. And we all know this can lead to chronic back pain, achy shoulders and other discomforts. But students aren’t the only ones to suffer from backpack-related injuries. From construction workers to office personnel, many of us spend hours each week carrying laptops, tools and other everyday essentials on our backs. 

Backpack-related injuries are all too common. And if left untreated, they can affect other areas of your health. The Consumer Product Safety Commission released data in 2012 stating more than 24,000 people were treated by doctors for injuries stemming from backpack use. Most cases were a result of uneven weight distribution, which can lead to sprains and posture problems. 

If you’re an avid backpack user, here are some tips to prevent injury. From choosing the right design to carrying it properly, there are many ways to avoid long-term discomfort. 

1. Look for the right features

You don’t have to buy the most expensive backpack on the market to prevent injuries. But there are some things you should watch for when shopping around. Always look for models that have the following features: 

  • Wide, padded straps that are at least 2” wide
  • Hip and chest belts, which can improve balance and take excess strain off the neck and shoulders
  • Multiple compartments to distribute weight evenly
  • Backpack on wheels if you’re commuting long distances

2. Don’t carry more than you can handle

Doctors and physiotherapists recommend you carry no more than 15% of your total body weight. For example: If you weigh about 130 pounds, 19 pounds should be the maximum amount of baggage you carry on your back. Always keep the load manageable. Heavier backpacks will force you to bend forward to support the weight, straining your back and shoulders. 

3. Don’t assume bigger is better

Many people make the mistake of buying an oversized backpack, which often leads to overloading. The backpack should be proportional to the size of your body, and not chosen just because it can carry more items. Also, make sure the material is light as heavier fabrics can increase the weight of the overall load. 

4. Practice good posture

Even while wearing a backpack, there’s a correct way to bend. When reaching down, always bend both knees. Practice bending both knees when picking up your backpack as well. Never bend at the waist when lifting or wearing your backpack as this can put unnecessary strain on the hips and shoulders. 

5. Get into the habit of organizing your belongings

Whether you’re going to a work seminar or just headed to the library, always look for opportunities to pack light. Spend some time organizing your belongings, and prioritizing only the essentials. Get into the habit of emptying your backpack every week, and removing all unnecessary items. 

6. Consider compression straps

Some high-quality backpacks come with a set of compression straps. This helpful feature allows you to compress the sides or bottom of the backpack. Although these straps won’t lighten your contents, they will help stabilize the overall load. This will prevent your items from jerking around and causing strain on your back and shoulders. 

7. Watch out for numbness or tingling

Rucksack palsy is a common symptom associated with backpack injury. When intense pressure is placed on the nerves in the shoulder, it can cause a tingling sensation in the hands. In serious cases, rucksack palsy can even lead to nerve damage. If you ever feel numbness or tingling in the limbs, it could be a sign of a poorly fitted backpack. Shop around for a model with the above-mentioned features or lighten up your overall load. 

8. See your healthcare professional for ongoing pain

There are times when a heating pad or cold compress just isn’t enough to alleviate backpack-related pains. If you’re experiencing long-term discomfort, seek help from a healthcare professional. 

Physiomed offers a variety of services to treat backpack injuries. Massage therapy is one of the most effective ways to relieve tension in the back, neck and shoulders. We also recommend acupuncture to improve circulation and treat chronic numbness. Physiotherapy and clinical conditioning can also restore range of motion to crucial muscles. 

For more information on preventing and treating backpack-related injuries or to book an assessment, contact us here.

Dr. Scott Wilson

Dr. Scott Wilson is the Founder & Chairman of Physiomed; one of Canada’s largest franchised networks of inter-disciplinary healthcare clinics. A graduate of Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College, Dr. Wilson founded Physiomed in 1994 and has since grown Physiomed to over 30 clinics in Southern Ontario and British Columbia. With hundreds of practitioners from over a dozen disciplines, Dr. Wilson and Physiomed have helped over 100,000 Canadians with physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, orthotic therapy, compression therapy and clinical conditioning as part of a program of rehabilitation and health optimization. In addition to helping patients improve their physical and mental well-being, Dr. Wilson has also mentored hundreds of practitioners to provide better care while enjoying more fulfilling careers. He is also a keynote speaker on many health related topics including how physiotherapy, chiropractic and health & wellness treatment can help with stress, weight loss, and unlocking the true potential within to achieve lasting physical well-being.

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