The fall semester has gone by very quickly and many students will begin to head to Hale Library for midterm studying. The first thing many students do is cram as many textbooks and study materials as possible in a backpack, not even thinking about the potential health risks involved with this packing method. Backpacks come in all shapes, sizes and styles, but the weight of a backpack is one factor that cannot change.
“According to the American Physical Therapy Association, a person’s bag should only weigh 15-20 percent of a person’s body weight,” said Julie Gibbs, director of health promotion and nutrition counseling at Lafene Health Center, in an email interview.
When a student carries a backpack load that exceeds the weight ratio, temporary and long term health implications can occur according to working-well.org. Carrying a backpack that is too heavy can create poor disk alignment and force bad posture, which leads to fatigue and strain on back and shoulder muscles. Over time these temporary issues can cause lifetime injuries to shoulder, back and neck areas.
Having proper posture will also help eliminate back problems related to heavy backpacks.
“Make sure that you’re always walking with your shoulders back in an upright position,” Gibbs said.
Gibbs also stressed the importance of doing exercises that strengthen chest and core muscles and stretch back muscles.
“Make sure you get plenty of exercise, including pushups, to strengthen your chest muscles and lots of back stretches,” Gibbs said. “Yoga has been shown to do wonders for those muscles, as well as the core. As everyone knows, with a strong core, you’re less likely to have back problems and more likely to have enough strength to be able to handle that heavy backpack.”
Backpack health is one of the last issues that students think about during this stressful time, although there are ways to help prevent these problems, according to a Harvard Medical School study. Backpack items that are the heaviest must be placed closest to the back to balance the weight of the bag.
“I put the biggest items in my backpack toward the back,” said Madison Stalcup, junior in kinesiology. “It may not be the heaviest items sometimes, but it feels more comfortable with bigger items closer to my back.”
Backpack placement is a key component in preventing long-term back problems. It may look stylish to have a backpack off one shoulder or hanging really low, but improper use of a backpack could result in neck muscle spasms and lower back pain.
“I like to wear my backpack higher up on my back even though it doesn’t look too cute,” said Myrna Barbee, sophomore in life sciences. “If I wear it too low it hurts my shoulders.”
Although midterms are quickly approaching, it is never too late to purchase a backpack. When purchasing a backpack, look for a bag with multiple compartments to make weight distribution easier. Look for a bag that has thick, wide, padded shoulder straps to help eliminate shoulder pain caused by straps digging into the shoulders. Most importantly, purchase a bag with two shoulder straps as opposed to one. Proper backpack usage is essential for present and future back health.