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Backpacks and back problems


Gull Life Editor

As the semester winds down, students are clinging to their books more tightly than ever before to prepare for the end of semester rush and finals.

If you take a walk across the Salisbury University campus, it would not be uncommon to see hordes of students with backpacks strapped to their backs and stuffed to capacity with books and supplies.

A packed academic schedule can mean multiple books, notebooks, binders, laptops and other school supplies weighing a student down. But continually lugging around a heavy load may ultimately have long-term effects on the spine and neck, according to recent research.

Believe it or not, over fourteen thousand Americans sought medical treatment for backpack injuries last year, according to a Boston University article.

Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences clinical professor Karen Jacobs suggests to Boston University that wearing a backpack incorrectly, putting too much weight in it, carrying it for too long or over a long distance, unequal distribution of weight and packing it incorrectly can lead to discomfort. The risk is higher for children, but college students can also be subjected to the potential risks.

Jacobs said that risk factors of a too heavily loaded backpack include fatigue, muscle soreness, musculoskeletal pain, respiratory problems and discomfort amongst other issues.

Research also suggested that wearing a heavy backpack over a number of years can make you shorter by shrinking your spine.

Another study showed that a typical backpack load can compress the disks in the spine and may increase its curvature.

A 2013 study in the Journal of Humanities and Social Science said that many students carry school backpacks that exceed 10 to 15 percent of their body weight, which puts them at risk for back pain, poor posture and related disorders.

The study listed some ways to reduce backpack related injuries:

  • Choose a backpack with wide, adjustable and well-padded shoulder straps.
  • The backpack weight should not exceed 10 percent of the carrier’s body weight.
  • Make sure there is padding in the neck and back areas.
  • Always use both straps. Using one strap will distribute the weight unequally and may cause discomfort.
  • The load of the backpack should be balanced and be close to the spine.
  • Try to avoid backpacks that are made of heavy material such as leather—nylon or canvas materials are better.

Boston University recommends only wearing the backpack when needed and if you notice back or neck pain in association with wearing a heavy backpack, try to lighten the load or use a wheeled backpack.

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