Do your shoulders hurt from the intense weight of your backpack, too?
“I know my Timbuk2 is the least healthiest thing in the world,” Zoe Schlanger ’13 adds before slinging her bulky shoulder bag over her head as if she were a weightlifting champion.
There seems to be an endless stream of students in the upper school who, like Zoe, lug their heavy backpacks from class to class.
Most students, unlike Zoe, might be unaware of the toll that backpacks and shoulder bags take on physical health, let alone the precautions to take to lessen these effects.
I spoke with physical therapist Katherine B. McCoy, the director of West Portland Physical Therapy Clinic, and her associates Scott Osborn and Anna Yarzak to get a clinician’s point of view on what kinds of precautions students should take to ensure fewer back problems in the future.
No matter what kind bag you tote, the amount of force relative to the weight of the bag can (read: “will”) cause spinal compression, which can ultimately lead to arthritis (N.B. premature arthritis does exist.). Secondly, continued lifting of any bag from the ground can cause strain of the biceps and/or the upper trapezius. If worn while slouching forward, all bags can also increase compression forces.
Here are a few precautions you can take when handling your bag of choice:
Tucker Gordon ’13 likes a backpack with a variety of compartments. He says, “everyone needs a place to put their things.” When asked if he gets any aches from carrying it around he replies: “Nope, never.” To avoid aches and pains like Tucker does, backpack-users should take the following advice:
Keep the straps snug and use that chest strap. For the least amount of spinal and shoulder stress, wear the backpack straps on not one, but both of your shoulders. Wide, padded straps are best.
Although she loves how sturdy her Timbuk2 messenger bag is, and how she can get things out of it without having to stop to take it off, freshman Sophie Peters says that her bag “definitely hurts [her] shoulder when [she has] to carry a lot of books.” Because of this, Sophie gets “jealous of people with backpacks sometimes.” Shoulder baggers, here are tips to ease your shoulder pain:
Shoulder bags are best if worn on the opposite shoulder from where the bag is hanging, so that the strap’s angle places the load through the natural center of gravity. Shoulder bags are awesome for those who cycle to school, because the bag sits on the lower back and relieves the shoulders as you pedal. It is also helpful to alternate the shoulder on which you place the strap.
Ben, a freshman at Catlin, chose his roller backpack because while “backpacks are for moving stuff, wheels make moving stuff easier: common sense.” Ben adds that he never gets aches from rolling it around.
Though they may have the potential to cause strain on the elbow or hand, rollers are the best bags for the spine.
If roller backpacks are the healthiest for students’ overworked backs and shoulders, why are there so few on campus? Some students say that the rollers make too much noise, while others comment on how difficult they are to haul up and down stairs.
Maggie Weirich ’13 puts the roller backpack into perspective at Catlin: “the Catlin campus isn’t…roller backpack friendly.”
“They just look weird,” adds a junior boy.
At the end of our conversation, Zoe remarked, “I admire people who use roller backpacks, because it’s kind of like,” she begins to affect a low, nonchalant voice, “‘I don’t care what you think about me, I’m gonna be healthy.’”
Students who want to tote a roller backpack: do not be afraid of, or discouraged by, junior boys. Let your wheels roll noisily around campus to let them know you’re there. Use your healthy back and rested shoulders to fight ‘em back (but don’t take that too literally). Make it a fashion statement: you can show off your full outfit by toting your bag a foot behind and away from you. Although CatlinSpeak would not endorse a candidate, we will endorse the rolling backpack.