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The Distribution of Forces between the Upper and Lower Back during Load Carriage


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: March 2004 - Volume 36 - Issue 3 - p 460-467
doi: 10.1249/01.MSS.0000117113.77904.46

LAFIANDRA, M., and E. HARMAN. The Distribution of Forces between the Upper and Lower Back during Load Carriage. Med. Sci. Sports Exerc., Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 460–467, 2004.

Introduction/Purpose To determine the effects of backpack mass on the forces exerted by the backpack on the carrier and on the distribution of these forces between the upper back (including shoulders) and lower back (sacrum and iliac crest).

Methods Eleven male volunteers (mean age 22.7 SEM 1.1 yr) walked on a level treadmill at 1.34 m·s−1 carrying a backpack loaded to three different masses (13.6, 27.2, and 40.8 kg). The backpack’s hip belt was connected to force transducers that measured the forces exerted on the lower back. The total force between the subject and backpack was determined from the backpack’s mass and acceleration. Forces on the upper back were calculated as total force minus the forces exerted on the lower back.

Results There was a significant effect of backpack mass on the vertical and anterior/posterior forces exerted on the upper and lower back, and on the total force exerted on the backpack center of mass. Regardless of mass, approximately 30% of the vertical force was borne by the lower back; the upper back and shoulders supported the remaining 70%; this is based on data averaged across the stride. Dimensionless analysis revealed peak forces on the upper and lower back increased proportionately to backpack mass whereas the peak forces exerted on the backpack COM increased disproportionately.

Conclusions The backpack exerts consistent anterior force on the lower back, which likely contributes to the occurrence of low-back pain associated with load carriage. Approximately 30% of the vertical force generated by the backpack can be transferred to the lower back by using an external frame backpack with a hip belt.

United States Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, Natick, MA

Address for correspondence: Michael LaFiandra, Boston Dynamics, Inc., 515 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA 02139; E-mail:

Submitted for publication May 2003.

Accepted for publication November 2003.

©2004The American College of Sports Medicine