How to wear backpacks

Do you suffer from neck, shoulder or back pain and don’t know why? It could be the heavy bag you’re carrying every day. Most commuters would know the struggle of fitting everything you need for the day into one bag. This includes gym clothes, laptops, books, wallets, phones, make-up etc. Many of us manage and many of us don’t. More often than not, carrying heavy bags and carrying the wrong type of bag leads to pain. Here are a few tips on how to lighten your load and why choosing a good back pack can be very beneficial for you.

As bags go, the one sided shoulder bag, such as a tote, is the least recommended. Although stylish, it places your body out of balance by putting more pressure on one side of the spine, especially when crammed full and heavy. The thin and usually non-padded straps of the bag can cut into the shoulder, placing pressure on the nerves that pass through that area from the neck into the arm. Additionally, the one-sidedness of the bag prevents a natural walking pattern and could lead to other potential injuries.

Backpacks, although recommended, have their own set of problems. When a backpack is not adjusted properly, or when too heavy, it could cause tension in your spine especially in the neck, shoulders and lower back. Carrying a bag too low on the back creates a backwards pull as if falling, to counteract this we tend to pull forward with our neck, compressing the neck and placing undue strain on the shoulder muscles, this position can also increase the tension in the lower back. Out of habit, many people sling their backpack over one shoulder. This defeats the purpose of carrying a backpack in the first place, which is to distribute the weight of the bag evenly over both shoulders.

Here are a few tips on how to carry your bag more ergonomically:

  • Bags should not weigh more than 10 % of your body weight. To help minimise the weight of the bag, go through it regularly to empty it of unnecessary items such as spare change, extra water bottles, the book you never finished reading etc.
  • When choosing a bag, go for a smaller size to limit the amount you can pack.
  • When choosing a backpack, it should not be wider or longer than your torso. There are now female backpacks available that are designed for narrower shoulders (and take breasts into consideration)
  • Go for a backpack with wider and cushioned shoulder straps to help prevent the straps cutting into the shoulder.
  • Tighten the straps of your backpack so that it sits as close to your spine as possible. This will also place your backpack higher up your spine which makes it easier to carry as it is closer to your centre of gravity and reduces the sensation of being pulled backwards.
  • When carrying a shoulder bag, alternate sides to prevent overuse of one side.

If you have a shoulder or neck injury, you might want to consider alternate options to lighten your load such as renting a locker at work or in the gym where you can store things safely. It might seem like a short time and insignificant amount to carry but the daily strain adds up and avoiding carrying heavy loads could speed up your recovery.

Postural exercises to strengthening the shoulders, spine and core could help keep your body strong enough to carry the heavy load, help correct imbalances occurring due to the additional weight being carried and help prevent potential injuries.