Red Flags for Heavy Backpacks | Reader's Digest

Red Flags for Heavy Backpacks

How to nix the pain of heavy bags for the sake of your spine, and more.

By Ted Spiker from Reader's Digest | September 2008

Kids totter back to school this month beneath massive backpacks. They shouldn’t — and neither should you. Here’s how to prevent pains and strains.

Lighten up. Carry no more than 25 percent of your weight in a backpack, which should be cinched against your body so it doesn’t swing. Toting 26 pounds (a laptop and a few magazines and files) can cut off blood flow to the arms after just ten minutes, leading to fatigue and loss of finger mobility.

Red Flags for Heavy Backpacks

Keep the object close to your body, especially while squatting and lifting, says Kevin Gill, MD, codirector of the University of Texas Southwestern Spine Center. And skip lumbar supports (back braces often used by people who do heavy lifting). A recent review shows they don’t prevent lower-back pain.

How to Lug It Safely:
Groceries. For plastic bags, let equal amounts of weight dangle from both arms. When you’re off balance, your torso muscles contract and make your spine work even harder, says William Marras, PhD, of the Ohio State University Institute for Ergonomics.

Purses, bags, briefcases.If they’re overstuffed, change arms or shoulders frequently to avoid overworking your torso muscles.

Roller luggage. Make sure the handle extends to your waist so you’re not bending and putting extra force on your spine. If your handle comes up short, buy an extender.

Wallet. A fat wallet is a nice problem, but sitting on a bulge in your pocket can torque your hips unevenly. Your spine will try to correct that, causing pain. Switch your wallet to the front pocket, or thin it to the essentials.