Health tipsOctober 2018

Don’t let your backpack backstab you!

Some days, it may feel like you’re breaking your back trying to meet deadlines at school or at the office. But the load you literally carry on your back shouldn’t be giving you the same feeling when you get home at the end of the day.

According to Léonie Blanchette, Occupational Therapist in the Neuromusculoskeletal Program at the Constance-Lethbridge Rehabilitation Centre, there are certain features to look for in a backpack to ensure it will be comfortable and safe to carry.

A backpack should have adjustable chest and arm straps, so its weight can be distributed evenly throughout the body, she says.

“Adjust the bag so it’s as close as possible to the back,” says Ms. Blanchette. But the backpack should never extend above or below one’s back; if the bag is longer, it’s probably too big.

Padded shoulder straps at least two inches wide and a padded back will not only provide comfort, but can help reduce unwanted pressure on the back, she adds. Look for backpacks that are also light-weight and made of water-resistant material.

How items are placed in the backpack can affect its level of comfort, too. Flat objects, such as books or folders, should lie straight against the back of the backpack. Lighter items like pencil cases should lie at the top of the bag, and any irregularly shaped objects should be placed at the front of the bag.

“Many opt to stuff their lunch bags in their backpack, but it’s best to take it in your hands, to avoid the extra weight on your back,” advises Ms. Blanchette.

Children less than nine years old should not carry a backpack weighing more than 5 per cent of their body weight; for children between the ages of nine and 15, no more than 10 per cent.

“One trick to limit backpack weight is to ask your child to fill up their water bottle only after they get to school, so it doesn’t add extra weight on the way to school,” says Ms. Blanchette.

And let’s get this straight: don’t carry your backpack on one shoulder. “Teenagers tend to have a habit of doing this, but it can lead to strain and injury,” she says.

If you find yourself stooping forwards or leaning backwards while carrying your backpack, or often trying to hold onto the straps to relieve your shoulders, you may be carrying too much or need to readjust the backpack.
“If you’re coming home with back, neck or shoulder pain consistently, something may be wrong with the backpack,” says Ms. Blanchette.

If the pain persists, she adds, you may need to see a physiotherapist who can provide exercises or stretches to help ease the pain. Some school boards have occupational therapists on site where students can be assessed.

You can learn more about back health and safety from the Government of Canada.

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