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Ergonomic backpacks; Is your bag causing you pain?

This time of year parents, children and university students alike are diverting to a more orthopaedic approach when it comes to the use of backpacks. However, little is known about the appropriate recommendations in place when it comes to ‘the right bag’ as a heavy backpack or the wrong size could increase the risk of poor posture or common neck and back injuries.

While adults feel that they may be strong enough to load up their backpacks as much as possible so that nothing has to be carried in their hands, this doesn’t do them any favours. And while children use backpacks for school, they don’t have the relevant knowledge to ensure that they are packing and carrying their backpacks correctly. The danger with both of these is that it results in the body having to compensate for the load, which can have long term effects on posture as well as the potential risk of a more immediate injury.

Many parents often purchase a larger backpack for their child so that they can utilise its space as they grow older and have it last for many years, however oversized backpacks can cause pulling and strains on soft tissues that otherwise wouldn’t occur. These strains are often contributed to;

Poor fitting of the lumbar pad within your child’s lower back curvature leading to inadequate support; Or, the bag sits too high on their back which can force the child’s head to sit more forward, causing neck strain. Below is a list of helpful tips that could solve and prevent your backpack related pain.


What sort of backpack should I purchase?

There are so many different styles of backpacks available to purchase that it can become difficult to choose the right one. Each year millions of children and adults walk to, from, and around school/work carrying backpacks filled with books and materials therefore the style that will adequately cater to these demands is an ergonomic backpack. Below are features that you should look for when purchasing a new bag.

– Lightweight material (canvas as opposed to leather)

– Two padded, wide (2-inches), adjustable shoulder straps on the backpack

– Padded back

– Individualised compartments that allow packing ease

– Adjustable hip straps, sternum strap, or frame to redistribute the weight of the backpack from the shoulders and back to the pelvis

– Consider using a separate bag for a laptop or other heavier electronic items

– Make sure the backpack is the right size – it should be no wider than your chest and no higher than 3 cm above your shoulders – you should be able to look up to the ceiling without your head hitting the bag.

How do I appropriately load and wear the backpack to avoid back pain?

– Always use both shoulder straps and wear the backpack on the back rather than over one shoulder – Wearing a bag with only one should strap curves the spine unnaturally, putting stress on the whole body.

– Pack heaviest objects into the backpack first so they are carried lower and closest to the body

– Fill compartments so that the load is evenly distributed throughout the backpack and items do not shift during movement

– Pack sharp or bulky objects in the backpack so they do not contact the back

– Adjust the straps to fit the backpack snugly to the child’s body, holding the bottom of the backpack 2 inches above the waist and keeping the top just below the base of the skull; do not carry the backpack low near the buttocks

– Lift the backpack by using the leg muscles and keeping it close to the body, not by bending over with arms extended

– Do not lean forward when walking; if this is necessary, there is too much weight in the backpack- Studies suggest that backpack weight should be limited to 10-15% of your overall bodyweight.

– And for future maintenance, it is important to clean out the backpack at least once a week so that you aren’t carrying any unnecessary, extra weight.

Although there is no evidence that structural spinal deformity can result from backpack use, any type of back pain that persists is uncommon and should be evaluated by a medical professional (A.K.A your friendly local Osteopath at Middle Park Osteopathy Clinic).


Caley Olesen

This post was written by Dr Caley Olesen.

You can find out more about Caley here or book an appointment with her here.

Alternatively, you can book an appointment by calling the clinic on 03 9908 2844.

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