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How to Shoulder a Backpack 101

A local doctor offers advice on the best way for students to carry their books and avoid back pain in the future.

Backpacks can be a convenient way for students to carry a load of books, laptops, and more, however, they can also cause early back pain. 

There is a right way to wear a backpack, say local doctors, who are seeing more back pain complaints from young people.  

“We do see some correlation between heavy backpacks and pain in our school- age students, particularly muscle strain in the back, neck and shoulders, although the clinical evidence is still unclear,” said Dr. David Gonzalez, family medicine, medical director, Mission Hospital Affiliated Physicians.  

To reduce the chance of muscle strain and long-term effects of heavy packs, parents and children should choose a backpack with wide shoulder straps; pack light, organizing contents so they are in the center of the pack; and use both straps to minimize strain on one shoulder, Gonzalez suggests. 

The total weight of the pack should not be greater than 10 to 20 percent of a child’s body weight. 

“For students with several higher level classes that require a load of books and other equipment, we recommend students use a rolling backpack or case, similar to what you might see in an airport setting. We will write prescriptions for special equipment in cases where the school doesn’t allow the use of rolling backpacks for the general population,” he said. 

While you might resemble a hiker or mountain climber carrying it the correct way as Gonzalez suggests, at least you could avoid neck and spine problems now or in the future.

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