It's back to school season which is a great time for a refresher on helpful tips to minimize the strain from carrying a bag. And these tips don't only apply to backpacks, but to handbags, laptop bags, sports bags, luggage, or whatever other bag you can think of. The Ontario Chiropractic Association's "Pack it Light, Wear it Right" campaign is credited as the source of the following recommendations, with additional resources and free access to informative materials being available in the Public Education section of their website, www.chiropractic.on.ca.
An improperly loaded or positioned bag can cause undue strain on your body. Due to the excessive load or the compensations made to carry the bag, discomfort may present as neck or back pain, headaches, or symptoms into the arms or legs. It is estimated that 50% of children experience at least one episode of low back pain by their teenage years, with backpacks thought to be one cause. It is also known that a prior history of back pain makes one more likely to experience a future episode, so aiming to delay or avoid the initial experience is worthy endeavour.
Let's start with choosing a bag. A lightweight vinyl or canvas bag is best versus a leather one which tends to be heavier. It is ideal for shoulder straps to be wide, adjustable, and padded so the load of the bag can be distributed over as much of your body as possible and not dig into the muscles around your neck and shoulders. It is also best for the bag to have multiple pockets and/or compartments. Not only does this make organizing easier but it spreads the weight of the contents around so the load can be nicely balanced. If carrying the bag, it should be proportionate to your body size and not excessively large. Some bags also come with wheels and pull handles, notably luggage, laptop bags, and larger sporting gear bags, and this is a great way to avoid bearing the load while transporting it.
Next comes packing the bag. A loaded bag that will be carried should not weigh more than 10-15 percent of your body weight. As an example, for a 150 lb individual, that is 15-22.5 lbs. Therefore, be selective in what you really need to pack. I know I periodically check my shoulder bag and find some item that I put in there a while ago that no longer needs to be toted around on a daily basis. If you cannot pack overly light, consider using multiple bags to split up the weight evenly. Pack heaviest items at the bottom and as mentioned use the various compartments to best distribute the load.
We'll finish with lifting and carrying bags. While lifting, be sure to keep your back straight and bend at your hips and knees. This is particularly true for heavier bags such as luggage and sporting bags, especially if you're stooped forward getting them out of the trunk of a vehicle. If there are two shoulder straps use both as slinging the bag over one shoulder will lead to compensations being made and asymmetrical strain on your body. If there is only one strap lift it over your head so that it rests on the shoulder opposite the bag, as this best distributes the weight. In this scenario, be sure to alternate sides to share the strain of the bag.
This article is for general information purposes only and is not to be taken as professional medical advice.