Total Health
Chiropractic

What are the best and worst bags for your back?

by Dr. Jessie Naughton, Chiropractor at Total Health Chiropractor Yeppoon.

youths walking towards building wearing backpacks

What backpack should I use? Does my child need to wear a particular type of bag? My child’s school bag is so heavy – this can’t be good for their back?! 

These are questions I hear every single day in practice. With so much confusing information out there, these kinds of questions do not come as a surprise! In today’s blog post, I am going to break it down for you and discuss what you need to look for in a bag, what bags you should avoid, how to set up your bag correctly, as well as my favourite bag!

Why do I need a suitable bag?

Firstly, using the wrong bag can wreck havoc on your health. A bag that’s not fitted properly or is too heavy can have more of an impact than you might think. Our bodies are strong, however are not necessarily well designed for the modern pressures we put them under – therefore it’s essential you consider what you are putting on your back.

Having an incorrectly fitting, or heavy bag has the potential to put excess pressure on your spine. This excess pressure may be unevenly distributed through the body – especially the spine – and has the potential to contribute to poor posture. The body tends to pull itself into what is called a ‘protective posture’. A protective posture is where the head sits forward, the shoulders round forward and the bottom sticks out (‘duck’s bum’ appearance). This protective posture has the potential to send mixed messages to the brain and may contribute to headaches/migraines, neck pain, shoulder tension, lower back pain, sciatica, numbness and tingling down the arms and more!

Having your backpack distort your posture may even lead to more serious conditions like Osteoarthritis and spinal degeneration if the impact is prolonged. Research is also showing us that poor posture and forward head carriage contributed by poor backpack carrying can decrease oxygen to the brain, potentially leading to fogginess, poor concentration, lack of energy and more.

What to look for in a school bag or backpack:

  1. Make sure the bag is the correct size. This can be determined by making sure the bag is no wider than your or your child’s chest.
  2. A bag that is able to be positioned at the correct height. You want the top of the bag to sit as close to the shoulder line as possible, with the bottom of the bag to sit with the small of your back. Depending on the length of the torso, this may change from person to person – the most important thing is to ensure that the bottom of the bag is not sitting any lower than the base of your spine.
  3. It’s essential that your child’s bag has adjust waist straps. This is important as the waist straps distributes weight evenly across their growing spine. Similarly, adults need to be mindful of this so to prevent excess stress on the spine.
  4. Make sure the bag has separate compartments. Having two, three or four separate compartments can help you to distribute items appropriately.
  5. Check the material the bag is made out of. It is better to opt for lightweight materials like canvas.

How to set up your bag in a back-friendly way

  1. Make sure the contents of your bag do not weigh more than 10% of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 50kg, your bag and its contents must stay below 5kg.
  2. When separating items into the different compartments of your bag, make sure the heaviest items (books, laptops, etc) are placed at the back of the bag (closest to your spine), with the lightest items stored at the front of your bag (furthest away from the spine).
  3. Always wear both straps. Wearing only one strap is similar to an across the shoulder bag and will only hurt your spine.
  4. Try not to wear your bag for too long. If possible, try and keep it under 30 minutes.
  5. Use the sternal and waist straps, and do up all zippers.

What to avoid in a bag

Across the shoulder, sling bags and shoulder/messenger bags should be avoided. These bags put too much extra weight on one side of the body and can dramatically impact the weight distributed throughout your spine. This may lead to spinal pain or degeneration if excessively worn.

My favourite Chiropractor approved bag

chiropak II backpack in green

My favourite bag is the ChiroPak II from Spartan. This bag is durable, functional and ticks all the boxes in terms of what a correct bag should look like. It has also been approved by the Australian Chiropractors Association (ACA). Many schools now use these as their school bag, so be sure to check your local uniform shop!

In conclusion, there are many aspects of a bag you need to consider. It is not one size fits all and it’s important to take your  time and put care and consideration into purchasing, fitting and using your bag to ensure the health of your spine and body. Your spine and nervous system may be arguably one of the most important organs in the body – you don’t want to damage it!

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