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How Carrying Heavy Backpacks Can Hurt Athletic Form

Posted by Bethany Nock on Mon, September 9, 2019

Everyone in the athletic field knows maintaining proper form is critical to a player’s stamina and safety.

Poor form can weaken an athlete’s performance and increase their risk of injury — which is why athletic trainers and coaches place so much emphasis on proper posture and stance. From after-school drills to game day, it’s essential athletes are always cognizant of their weight distribution and the muscles they exert.

Unfortunately, one common daily activity threatens to weaken a player’s form, undermine their performance and contribute to a lifetime of chronic pain: lugging around a heavy bag.

Whether they’re hauling a sports bag full of cumbersome equipment or an unwieldy backpack brimming with books — or both — student-athletes generally aren’t hypervigilant about their posture throughout the school day. And that simple oversight can have severe, long-lasting consequences.

Here is some helpful background on how heavy bags affect posture and form, as well as tips you can share with players to reduce their risk of injury.

How Carrying Heavy Bags Affects Athletic Form

No one should carry more than one-tenth of their body weight in a backpack, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics Rehabilitation Services. For example, a 130-pound person should carry a maximum of 13 pounds in their bag at once.

Unfortunately, by the time you add up books, electronic devices, snacks, supplies and a water bottle, most students are carrying much more than ten percent.

When you carry an overweight bag, your body overcompensates to manage the load. And when you put too much burden on your upper body, it can distort the natural curve of your middle-to-lower back. Prolonged, repetitive muscle strain can lead to chronic pain and a lifetime of poor posture. This is especially true among children and adolescents. Because their spines are still growing, they have a higher risk of developing scoliosis.

Heavy bags can also cause compressed discs, lumbar asymmetry and damage to the soft tissue and nerves in the shoulder, according to data shared by NBC News.

“The result could be anything from simple irritation to diminished nerve capacity, ultimately limiting the muscles' ability to respond to the brain's signals, inhibiting movement of the hand and the dexterity of the fingers,” says a study published in ScienceDaily.

Signs a Backpack is Too Heavy

Here are a few signs a student’s bag may be too heavy:

  • They have trouble putting it on or taking it off
  • The bag leaves strap marks on their shoulders
  • They discover their limbs “fall asleep” while wearing it
  • They have recurring neck, shoulder or back pain

These symptoms may also indicate the student is not wearing the bag as intended or has the wrong type of bag.

3 Bag Carrying Tips to Help Preserve Athletic Form

Luckily, instilling good habits can help protect athletes from pain or injury today and in the future.

Here’s how to regularly carry a heavy bag without hurting yourself:

1) Choose the Right Bag

Select a traditional backpack rather than a shoulder bag or cross-body sling bag. Be sure the bag has wide, adjustable padded straps as well as a padded back.

2) Wear the Bag Correctly

Always wear both straps — never wear a bag slung over one shoulder. Adjust the straps so the bag sits at least one inch above the hips. Be sure to bend at the knees when lifting or dropping the bag. Focus on proper posture and consider adding a chest strap for added support.

3) Pack the bag with care

Start by sorting through the bag and clear out any unnecessary items. (Remember: every little bit helps.) Place heavier items towards the back of the bag, and only carry what’s absolutely necessary each day. Consider whether any items can be left in a locker overnight or between classes and activities.

Hauling around a hefty load day after day can take a serious toll on students’ spines, muscles and nerves, which can impact their performance on and off the field. By understanding how backpacks can cause problems in athletic form and educating your players on how to carry a heavy bag without injury, you can help reduce their risk.

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