Tips for reducing neck and back injuries

With school underway, attention is focused on backpack safety. But carrying heavy bags, briefcases, computers, luggage and even handbags can affect anyone.

"We're seeing an increasing number of injuries to the shoulder area, neck and upper back musculature, and the low back, in both children and adults as the result of carrying bags that are too heavy or too large," said Jeffrey M. Cole, M.D.Strains and sprains of the muscles and ligaments are the most common injuries and can be extremely painful, even causing permanent damage in some cases. While most injuries can be treated with medication, rest and occupational therapy, the best 'cure' is avoiding injury in the first place."

According to Kessler occupational therapist Kim Hreha, "Students of all ages load books, computers and other paraphernalia into their backpacks without thinking about how much they are carrying. The same holds true for workers who pack their computers, files and more into briefcases. Women who choose to carry fashionable, but oversized and stuffed, handbags are also at significant risk of injury. Even travelers face possible injury when they overpack their luggage, carry it incorrectly and lift it improperly."

To help "lighten the load" and avoid some of the potential risks of injury, Kessler suggests:

  • Choose a bag that is proportionate in size (10-15 percent of body weight) and no larger than what is needed.
  • Look for lighter materials and durable construction in a briefcase.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps on a backpack so it fits snugly across the back and weight is evenly distributed. If the bag has a waist strap, use it.
  • Switch shoulders or hands frequently to avoid muscle fatigue.
  • Lift bags correctly and carefully, using your legs rather than your back.
  • Choose a handbag wisely, using smaller compact purses whenever possible.
  • When shopping, distribute contents among several bags, rather than putting everything in one.
  • When traveling, plan in advance what you will wear and pack only those items. Consider using two small suitcases as opposed to one large one.
  • Pack bags with heaviest objects at the bottom or closest to the body and pack only what is necessary.
  • Lift bags correctly and carefully, using your legs rather than your back. If stowing luggage overhead on an airplane, lift slowly and carefully on the seat, then lift it into the compartment.

"By taking a few simple precautions, individuals can help to minimize the risk of injury," emphasized Dr. Cole.

SOURCE Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation

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