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This week in wellness: maintaining back health

Credit: Krista McComb / Lantern Photographer

Credit: Krista McComb / Lantern Photographer

Each week The Lantern speaks with experts at Ohio State for the latest in student health and wellness tips and news.

For most students, carrying textbooks from building to building is tiring. The effects of hauling that 5-pound algebra book can cause more than a little breathlessness. Dr. Gladys Gibbs, Director of Wilce Student Health Services, shares her thoughts concerning back stress and health.

Q:  Are there long-term repercussions on the body (particularly the back and spine) for students who carry large amounts of weight in their bags every day?

A: Backpacks can be very useful and two of the strongest muscle groups–abdominal and back–help provide support. Heavy backpacks can cause muscle, tendon and ligament strain from overuse thereby causing back pain.

Q:  How much weight is safe for students to carry daily in their bags?

A:  Backpacks come in different sizes and you should pick a backpack that is appropriate in size for your body. When worn correctly, the weight of the backpack should be evenly distributed. Some health-care professionals recommend that individuals especially children not carry more than 10 to 15 percent of their body weight on a regular basis. A heavy backpack may also alter the way we walk and increase the risk of falling or tripping.

Q: What’s the best kind of bag to carry for back health?

A: Bags with wide straps are better than thin straps, which can interfere with circulation and impact local nerves. Bulky and heavy backpacks should be avoided.

Q:  Are there any other common physically impacted areas students don’t necessarily think about but should?

A: When a backpack is worn over just one shoulder an individual has a tendency to lean to one side to compensate for the maldistribution of weight.  This may lead to shoulder and neck strain as well as lower- and upper-back  pain. Petite men and women may be more at risk.

Q: What are some tips and tricks for keeping these areas healthy?

A: Staying active can help to relieve muscle spasms and prevents weakening of the muscles. On the other hand, back pain caused by overexertion may not improve without rest. Thus, high-impact activities (running, jumping, or other activities that cause pain) should be avoided while one has back pain. It is fine to continue with regular day-to-day activities and light exercise that does not cause pain. Staying active and performing exercises which strengthen and stretch the back can help to prevent back pain. Learn to lift using the legs.

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