Lower Backpain and injuries that come from carrying backpacks and workbags are a common thing we see at Absolute Rehab. With September just around the corner, many children, teens and young adults will be headed back to school. Before the textbooks and school materials pile up, it’s important to discuss and practice good backpack habits. These habits can also extend to adults and co-op students carrying work bags. Avoiding lower back pain and subsequent back pain treatment comes from a conscious effort to good posture and effective planning.

To help you out, the LiveWell Health and Physiotherapy team has compiled information and advice on how to avoid lower back pain this upcoming school year.

Backpacks, Spinal Alignment and Back Pain

Backpacks are essentially a weight placed upon the shoulders and spine that can create spinal alignment issues and posture issues. Alignment problems and postural problems often result in back pain. Back pain is not limited to the ageing population. In fact, children as young as 9 or 10 years old are recognizing they have back pain.

Backpacks place the weight of its contents on the shoulders, upper back and lower back. Although backpacks can now be purchased with orthopedic foam and extra padding, it does not change the fact that the weight of the backpack is often too much for the person carrying it.

As a general rule, Chiropractors recommend that the backpack should weigh between 10-15% of the wearer’s body weight, leaning more towards the 10% side. So for a child that’s 90 pounds, the backpack should weigh no more than 9 pounds. This statistic is great in theory, but on a regular day, a child may not know what the feeling of 9 pounds in their backpack is like. Sadly, it may not even matter because the reality is that students are forced to carry their backpacks regardless of how heavy they are.

Although you may not realize it, your child’s backpack may be responsible for short-term and long-term effects on the back. In the short-term, a child may say that their lower back hurts or that their shoulders feel sore. As they continue wearing backpacks, they may suffer from continual lower back pain and general back pain, neck pain, poor posture (curving their spine), and muscle strain in their shoulders. If no adjustments are made to how backpacks are worn and if back pain treatment is not pursued, the problems can worsen as they grow. They may also have issues with back stability and make them prone to back injuries.

How to Prevent Backpain from Backpacks

Preventing back pain from backpacks is something that parents should be aware of for their children’s health. Here are 6 tips for preventing back pain from backpacks:

1) Choose a backpack that has wide straps (but not too wide!)

Backpacks need to be designed in a way that helps distribute the weight of backpacks across the shoulders. Backpacks with wider straps help alleviate shoulder pain and back pain because the weight has a larger surface area to displace. But make sure the straps aren’t too wide. If straps are too wide and go beyond the shoulder, the weight is no longer distributed the way it’s meant to be. The backpack can also slip off easily causing muscles to be jerked.

2) Choose a Backpack (or workbag) with Two Very Adjustable Shoulder Straps

Some backpacks on the market have adjustable straps but they don’t adjust enough. This is typically the case with trendier backpacks. When choosing a backpack, be aware and choose one with straps that can be adjusted to your child’s body. Avoid choosing any of the one-strap backpack or workbag options as this doesn’t allow for much adjustment and can wreak havoc on muscles. Which leads to our next point…

3) Always Wear Both Straps of the Backpack 

A common mistake backpack wearers make is to only wear one shoulder strap when carrying their backpack. This should be avoided because it places unnecessary strain on one shoulder, causing the spine to compensate for one side, and can cause lower back pain because of the way the body must adapt to the weight. By wearing both backpack straps, you help distribute the weight evenly and you keep your body in balance.

This is also important with work bags. Oftentimes, working people get lazy and sling their bags on one arm before rushing off. Take the time to properly put on your workbag.

4) Be Aware of How Far Down the Spine the Backpack Is

Backpacks are recommended to sit just below the waist. If you think about where the natural curve of the spine is, the backpack should hit just below the curve and above the hips. This keeps the pressure off the lower back and lower spine. Raise the height of the backpack by adjusting the shoulder straps until the end of the backpack falls just below the waist.

5) Opt for a Rolling Backpack

Depending on the policies of the education facility, you may be able to purchase a rolling backpack. These were popular a few years ago when heavy backpacks were making headlines in Canada. Rolling backpacks have a long pulley handle that allows the bag to be rolled around rather than worn on the back. These are a great solution to avoid back pain, spine pain and neck pain, but should still be used with caution. Don’t make the backpack too heavy or you’ll cause yourself some arm muscle strain.

6) Only Carry Around What is Necessary

Our last tip for back pain prevention is to go through your child’s backpack (or your workbag) and make sure that the contents are necessary. Sometimes we can ignore the amount of “stuff” piling up in our bags and as a result, we end up carrying unnecessary extra weight. To avoid this, make it a point to go through bags bi-weekly and remove items that are weighing it down.

If Backpain Is Still a Problem… 

Keeping this information and handy tips in mind, you’ll be able to avoid lower back pain and neck pain going back to school (or work). If you are still experiencing lower back pain, neck pain and general injuries, please contact LiveWell Health and Physiotherapy where we can examine you and determine appropriate pain treatments.