The concept of carrying a backpack or heavy amounts of items on ours backs isn’t a new concept. It’s been going on for centuries. Today, some aboriginal tribes still practice the art of fashioning together materials for maximum carrying power. This is out of the need to haul large amounts of items for long distances for survival. This consists of a great amount of neck, back and core strength, and in some instances even head and neck alignment.
In our modern day society, we don’t think twice about grabbing our backpack and loading it up with our laptop, bottled water, a few snacks, gaming devices, books…I mean, if it fits in the pack then it’s coming with us! Those of us attending school, from elementary to college, usually end up carrying quite a bit, from heavy text books to thick notebooks and journals. We carry so much and fill our backpack so full, that we have to utilize our arms to carry even more books and sometimes, we even have a tote bag filled with even more stuff to carry. Even those of us who enjoy a wonderful outdoor adventure hike, will not hesitate to throw on a heavy backpack loaded with camping needs, then a tent. Oh, and don’t forget the sleeping bag!
While the survival needs may vary from tribe to tribe, student to student and even hiker to hiker, one fact does not change in all of these scenarios. Carrying all of weight on our back causes great strain to our back, shoulders, neck and core as a whole. This damage can sometimes show an immediate effect with sore, aching back muscles; to long term effects, like herniated discs and chronic lower back pain. None of which are a pleasant reward for our hard work and phenomenal feats of strength and balance.
So, here are a few tips to help you get to your destination, without putting extra strain on the back and body:
This was originally going to be my last tip, but I feel that this is often the most important, as many of us also use a backpack for casual and daily carrying needs. In a way, we use it as a purse or messenger bag. I wanted to bring this to the top because strapping into your backpack is just as important to your health and safety as strapping in an automobile.
Manufacturers have completed a lot of research and studies in order to create a durable, comfortable, functional, backpack while taking into consideration the health and safety of the person wearing it. You may find your backpack has only shoulder straps, this may vary for one shoulder strap to two, use them properly. If you have two shoulder straps, then put each arm through them and make sure the bottom of the bag falls just at the small of the back. If you carry a one shoulder strap pack, then keep in mind most of these are designed to strap diagonally across your chest (meaning from left shoulder to right side and/or vice versa). This is important not only for your back, but also for the durability and integrity of the materials and design of the pack. It is less likely to tear as easily when worn properly. It is also important to keep in mind that single and double strap backpacks are not intended for long periods of usage. These are better for short bursts, like to and from classes and for short trips to the coffee shop. Use these whenever you know you will have moments when you can take the pack off for a while. If you plan to keep it on all day or for long periods throughout the day, then please invest in a pack that has multiple straps, especially with a strap that fastens across the chest horizontally.
The neck is a major weak point in the spinal column. Studies show women are more susceptible to injury in that area, as well as people who sit a lot. To take pressure off the neck area and always place both straps of a backpack over your shoulder. It allows you to place the load evenly across both upper trap muscles. Any additional straps are provided for this same reason, weight displacement is essential when carrying back packs.
Also remember, in those cases where you absolutely have to carry a traveler’s bag or a tote, just switch sides frequently, and keep the load light.
What??? That’s insane! I need my whole apartment in there!!!
I know! I know! But the recommended carrying weight for a backpack is only 10% of your bodyweight. But you should keep a strict cap at 15%
Let’s say you weigh 150 pounds…that means the recommended limit is 15 pounds, but you should definitely not go over about 22.5 pounds. Anything heavier than that can alter your posture and if you do that for long periods of time it can seriously hurt your back.
Especially when traveling or hiking, you are forced to carry heavier objects than if you were just going to class. Studies show that if you load the heavier stuff on the bottom is has a lesser effect on your spinal curvature.
When you’re loading a bag up, place an even amount of weight on the right and left sides. Studies show that this tactic reduces lateral spinal motion. The same should go for tote bags, either as a carry along in addition to a backpack, or if that is your only bag to carry.
Lastly, please take the time to do a little research before purchasing you backpack. Find one that best suits your needs and not just your aesthetic. While looks, designs and patterns are important to us, we also need to understand the long term effects of carrying backpacks. When it comes to backpacks, sensibility over style should always win. If you currently feel back or neck pain when carrying your backpack, then it may be time for an upgrade. Shop around and make the best choice for your needs.
Of course, any back and neck pain should be taken very seriously. Getting involved in a yoga class can always help strengthen your back and core muscles as well as provide substantial stretching to increase flexibility. If your back pain is serious, consult a doctor. Never underestimate pain when your health is concerned, it is always best to speak with a professional and take their advice seriously.
Stay safe, be kind to yourself and as always…
Good journey, and namaste.