Backpack Awareness: Tips to Help Kids Avoid Backpack Pain & Injuries This School Year

Backpack AwarenessIf you have a child who’s middle-school age or older, you’re very aware of their overloaded backpack. Or maybe you’re in school and suffering from overly weighty textbooks. Whoever carries the load in your family, it’s time for everyone to take the backpack seriously.

Heavy backpacks and book bags cause back, neck, and shoulder pain and injury. It’s a fact. That’s why the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) instituted the third Wednesday in September – this year, it’s September 19th – as National School Backpack Awareness Day™.

Consider these facts from AOTA:

  • More than 79 million children in the U.S. carry school backpacks.
  • More than 2,000 backpack-related injuries were treated in ERs, clinics, and doctors’ offices in 2007 alone.
  • About 55% of students carry a backpack that is heavier than the recommended guideline of 10% of the wearer’s body weight.

That’s right. A loaded backpack should never weigh more than 10% of the wearer’s bodyweight (15% at absolute max). That means a 100-pound child’s backpack shouldn’t weigh more than 10 pounds. You’re thinking, “Try telling that to my kid’s teacher!” right? Well, there are some steps you can take to improve your child’s lot. Take a moment and share these back-saving tips:

  1. Choose the right bag. School backpacks are sized according to age group, so be sure to get one that’s not too big. Choose a light-weight bag with wide, well-padded shoulder straps, a padded back, and a waist strap. Avoid leather shoulder straps, as they add unnecessary weight. If you know your load is going to exceed the 10% rule on a regular basis, get a bag with wheels. Don’t risk injury.
  2. Pack your bag properly. Load the heaviest items first, so they’ll be closest to your back, and arrange books and materials so they don’t slide around. Pack only what’s necessary. Do you really need that laptop? If not, leave it out. If you have to, carry a book or two by hand to avoid breaking the 10% rule.
  3. Carry your bag correctly. Always wear your backpack on both shoulders and wear the waist belt, so that the weight is distributed evenly. You may think it looks cool to sling your pack over one shoulder, but you’re putting your back at risk for injury. Adjust the shoulder and waist straps so that the pack fits snugly. The backpack should rest evenly in the middle of the back and should never be more than 4 inches below the waistline (if it’s hitting your bottom, it’s too low).

As the school year gets going, pay attention to your child’s load. If your child is struggling to get the backpack on or off, complains of back pain, or has to lean forward to carry the pack, it’s probably too heavy. And carrying an overloaded backpack shouldn’t have to be a childhood rite of passage.

Do you or your child carry a heavy backpack to class? How do you handle the load? We welcome your questions and feedback in the comments section below.

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