According to current research, you should only carry 10-15% of your body weight in your backpack. Carrying more weight, or unevenly distributing the weight (i.e. on one shoulder/side of the body) can increase vulnerability to back pain and injury over time. There are multiple forces acting on the body (lower back and the neck) from your backpack. Due to these forces, your back can experience 1.5 – 2 times the weight of your backpack.
How should you pack your backpack?
The heaviest items should be packed closest to your back for maximal support (i.e. laptop, textbooks). Lightweight items should be placed towards the bottom of your backpack (i.e. sweater, pencil case), while medium objects should be placed closer to the top of your backpack (i.e. lunch, snacks).
Appropriate posture is an important factor for maintaining back health, especially during long periods of sitting. Strengthening and stabilizing the spine can make it more resilient, less susceptible to injury, and able to recover faster from injury. A lack of core strength is one of the more important factors for inability to maintain a proper posture while sitting. Here are some more examples of exercises you can perform to help strengthen your core:
Dr. Stuart McGill, a professor of spine biomechanics at the University of Waterloo, demonstrates a core exercise program emphasizing the major muscles supporting the spine
Set cues for yourself to help you remember to sit up straight. For example, check your posture when you:
- Receive a text or email
- Turn a page while reading
- See an individual you find attractive
A sedentary lifestyle can contribute to back pain and poor back health. Students can spend large portions of the day sitting, whether in class, in the lab, studying, surfing the Internet or watching television.
Studies report that sitting more the 3 - 4 hours per day can have negative health consequences, including the development of back pain. Even with moderate amounts of exercise, large periods of continuous sitting can negatively affect your back. Sitting for more than 25 minutes can have a negative impact on the shapes of ligaments and disks in the spine, increasing vulnerability to back pain over time.
What can you do to prevent or help with your back pain?
Give your back a break. Try to break up long periods of inactivity or sitting with short exercises every 30-40 minutes. Here are some examples of exercises you can do at school or at home.
At school: (during class, while studying at the library, etc.)
- Leg swings and arm circles. These easy mobility exercises promote blood flow to key areas and increase heart rate.
- 60 second walk. Stand up and make a lap of your work area to realign your spine and initialize/engage supportive structures and musculature.
- Chest Stretch. This helps to stretch out your back.
- Pelvic Rocks/Tilts. This helps lubricate the joints and increase blood flow to the lower back.
- Mini-Break. This combines multiple small exercises for an excellent short break.