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Load carriage using packs: A review of physiological, biomechanical and medical aspects

, : Load carriage using packs: A review of physiological, biomechanical and medical aspects. Applied Ergonomics 27(3): 207-216

This paper reviews the biomedical aspects of transporting loads in packs and offers suggestions for improving load-carriage capability. Locating the load mass as close as possible to the body center of gravity appears to result in the lowest energy cost when carrying a pack. Thus, the double pack (half the load on the front of the body and half the load on the back) has a lower energy cost than the backpack. However, backpacks provide greater versatility in most situations. The energy cost of walking with backpack loads increases progressively with increases in load mass, body mass, walking speed or grade; type of terrain also influences energy cost. Predictive equations have been developed for estimating the energy cost of carrying loads during locomotion but these may not be accurate for prolonged (>2 h) or downhill carriage. Training with loads can result in greater energy efficiency since walking with backpack loads over several weeks decreases energy cost. Load-carriage speed can be increased with physical training that involves regular running and resistance training. Erector spinae electrical activity (EMG) is lower during load carriage than in unloaded walking until loads exceed 30-40 kg, at which point erector spinae EMG activity is higher than during unloaded walking. EMGs of the quadriceps and gastrocnemius, but not the tibialis anterior or hamstrings, increase with load. Framed packs with hip belts reduce the electrical activity of the trapezius muscles, presumably by shifting forces from the shoulders to the hips. Increases in the backpack load mass result in increases in forces exerted on the grounds, amount of knee flexion and the forward inclination of the trunk. Compared to backpacks, double packs produce fewer deviations from normal walking. Common injuries associated with prolonged load carriage include foot blisters, stress fractures, back strains, metatarsalgia (foot pain), rucksack palsy (shoulder traction injury) and knee pain. Closed-cell neoprene insoles and use of an acrylic or nylon sock, combined with a wool sock, reduce blister incidence. A framed pack with a hip belt reduces the incidence of rucksack palsy. Backpack load carriage can be facilitated by lightening loads, optimizing equipment, improving load distribution and by preventive action aimed at reducing the incidence of injury.


PMID: 15677062

DOI: 10.1016/0003-6870(96)00013-0

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