Are Backpacks Really That Bad?

Are Backpacks Really That Bad?

My Facebook feed is full of back-to-school photos today.

It’s so cute seeing all the Littles in their First Day outfits, eager to make good first impressions.

They grow up so fast!

And while I don’t have kids of my own, I can’t help but feel a tug at my heartstrings of seeing my niece, backpack slung over her shoulders, eagerly getting on the bus and head into 1st grade like the superstar she is.

Makes me want to buy some crayons.

Imagine my surprise to also see a ton of stuff on my Facebook feed saying how this time honored tradition and right of passage of slinging a backpack over the shoulders wrecks a kid’s body.

 

 

 

[Insert “Say what, now?” face]

Stuff like, “don’t forget to get your child’s posture evaluated”, showing an elementary school age kid standing in front of a grid wall with before/after photos of what wearing and not wearing a backpack looks like to his posture.

Studies have been done, articles have been written.

Words like “health risk” and “danger” are being paired with “backpack”.

These articles and studies I’ve read keep mentioning loads and posture, which is such a loaded concept.

They talk about loads and posture as if it’s a fixed, unchangeable point.

Worst and Best.

Lawful good vs. chaotic evil.

Fear, much?

 

Back-To-School Mode: UNLOCKED.

To say backpacks (or any bag for that matter) wrecks our kids’ (or our own) posture and leads to this-or-that musculoskeletal issue or structural diagnosis is kind of a dull, low-level understanding of how the body functions as a whole, dynamic entity.

It’s fine and dandy to stand in front of a grid wall to evaluate posture, but it’s only a snapshot because posture is always adapting.

It adapts to forces we carry (a force would be any weighted object we could carry; I.e. backpack, briefcase, toddler, grocery bag, coffee cup), loading joints as we go and moving through our environment.

How a joint loads differs on what, how, and where we are carrying all of the stuffs.

If we are on flat, uneven, hard, or squishy surfaces, let alone up hill or down hill (or stairs) makes a difference.

We adapt to the amount of the weight and what body part we are primarily relying on to carry that weight.

There are a ton of variables in our equation.

When did Homo sapiens become a bunch of wussies who aren’t able to move without aches and pains while carrying stuff?

I’m thinking it’s when we stopped carrying stuff and moving around.

 

 

Not the Enemy

Bags and backpacks aren’t the enemy; there’s nothing wrong with using them when we need to.

They make it convenient to carry larger, unruly amounts of stuff.

In less trips, and hands free.

Headed out to hike with our packs. Included: 11L of water, 4 rain jackets, 2 hoodies, and about a pound of food, at least.

 

And since most people don’t do much lifting and carrying heavy things these days, usually the loads in the center of the body are more comfortable than on our arms, hands, and shoulders.

Like I said, convenience. And comfort.

 

What happens when center mass can’t handle the forces anymore and now you feel an ache in some body part or other from carrying around your bag?

 

Your body is now poorly managing the forces placed on your body, muscles can be overworking or underperforming, and the joints being loaded aren’t responding with adaptable ease.

You are experiencing dysfunction.

Hiking in the Smokies. A difficult 5 mile hike and a pack with 3L of water wasn’t an issue.

Those parts are ill equipped, for whatever reason, to carry the weight.

Maybe they are tired.

 

Maybe there was a tweaky injury in there once-upon-a-time and now there’s some compensation patterns built up as your brain tries to figure out how to get the job done and avoid pain at the same time.

Don’t throw the backpack out with the bathwater just yet.

Loads are simply the experience of the thing.

 

Experiences can change.

 

If the complaint is the backpack makes for sore shoulders or low backs, switch how the backpack is carried.

It’s that simple.

There’s many different ways to carry a backpack. You don’t have to carry it the same way every single time.

 

Create some new habits. Load your joints in new and novel ways.

Switch when you start to fatigue because hey (!) you’re building strength and adaptations in new places now.

The only wrong answer is continuing to load your joints in painful ways when one method to carry out the task becomes cumbersome or excessively uncomfortable.

 

Bottom Line

I think that’s the crux of the issue; we only do a small handful of activities with no variations on the theme.

Give the area you excessively work a recovery break by using another area you negligently use in your regular and daily habits.

The Great Posture Debate is really kind of dull.

It’s so yes/no these days.

The human body is too brilliantly complex and dynamic to distill it’s function down to a rigid set of “do this, not that” principals.

Remember, you have lots of different parts you can use to get the job done.

Do: move more of your body more frequently. Get creative. Explore.

Don’t: limit yourself. Or be afraid.

 

[bell rings] Class dismissed.

 


Do you feel aches and pains and limitations within your movement abilities?

It may be time to have those properly looked at.

If you would like to improve on your movement and postural potential, address any old (or new) injuries that never completely went away on their own, or explore possible compensation patterns that could be contributing to the “stress” you feel in your body, you can schedule a session here for a full evaluation and assessment.

 

 

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