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Backpacking Spinal Health
There is much discussion on the relationship of carrying a weighted backpack and back pain, particularly with children. Reasonable solutions are available to this problem that are not often discussed. Suggesting limiting the weight of the backpack, promoting wider or narrower shoulder straps, confusing a waist belt (some with pads) with a substantial supportive padded hip belt, and statements that suggest the weight should be in the base of the backpack, or the backpack should be worn above the waist, are only some of the confusing statements made on backpack health.
The simple solution is a professionally designed harness, which includes a contoured internal frame for load transference to the lower back, correctly contoured shoulder straps of the correct length, a properly placed sternum strap, a substantial supportive padded hip belt, and the correct padding on all body contact. This is the total solution to the problem.
A daypack with no internal frame, a waist belt and no substantial supportive padded hip belt, and sometimes no padding in the harness, or any one of the necessary components missing to complete the combination in a professionally designed harness, is the total problem.
Backpacks, especially daypacks (school backpacks) designed to carry no more than a few small items, a notepad, todays lunch, and one drink bottle, are not designed to support heavy weight such as numerous school books, and should not be used at all for this purpose. This where the discussion should end.
However, these basic backpacks are sold for this purpose through retailers and schools directly to students for the purpose of carrying heavy loads. Sometimes these backpacks have internal support frames, but no substantial supportive padded hip belt and lower stabiliser strap to create a static backpack position for these internal staves on the lower back. Simply having wider straps is not the solution, this puts unnecessary painful pressure on the shoulders, neck, muscles, nerves, and joints. Conversely, narrow shoulder straps place excessive pressure in the one place, directly centre to the shoulder strap. Harness Shoulder Strap design is not so simplistic as width, it is a complex combination of angles, shape, width, length, resting position, fixing positions, and sternum strap.
Of course well designed shoulder straps is only part of the solution, with heavy loads we don't want to carry the weight on the shoulders. In combination with internal support and a substantial supportive padded hip belt we can transfer approximately 80% of the load to the lower back, in a static position. In this manner the backpack no longer pulls backward placing pressure on the upper and lower back, or downward placing excessive pressure on the shoulders. Of course well designed backpacks need to be worn correctly, these may need professional fitting, and may be more expensive. However our research shows that this is not always the case.
It may be "cool" to wear your backpack low on the back hanging from the shoulders, but the choice is back pain and the long term associated problems.
For parents that have concerns for their children's backs, and not satisfied with the school prescribed backpack, including chiropractor or physiotherapist association approved backpacks, we suggest seeking a referral from their medical practitioner to purchase a backpack of their own choice.
Discussion on the problems with wearing a basic backpack incorrectly, and not having a correctly designed backpack to support weight is available on the following websites;
Spine Health - In-depth information to help patients understand, prevent and seek appropriate treatment for back pain and neck pain - written and reviewed by leading spine physicians.
Spine Health Featured Articles - Backpacks and Back Pain in Children
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