The 3rd Wednesday of September every year is the day the American Occupational Therapy Association has named "National School Backpack Awareness Day". What's it all about? The purpose is to teach students, parents, teachers, school administrators, and the community about safety tips to prevent back pain and injury. As the mom of 2 high school students, I've seen it first hand that even kids and teens are suffering back and neck pain simply from carrying their overloaded backpacks! My 14 year old son is nearly 6 foot tall and 150 pounds yet he has complained of neck and shoulder issues since starting high school a month ago because of the crazy amount of gigantic books along with a laptop and case he has to carry throughout the day. We took a look at tightening up the straps and making sure he is carrying the bag on BOTH shoulders instead of slinging it over just one shoulder. He also learned that he is able to keep 1-2 of his super huge books at home as reference books instead of carrying all day. Some things you can't control (the amount of homework!) but there are some things you can do to prevent back and neck pain for your kiddos AND yourself!
- A backpack should weigh no more than 10% of the child's body weight. So this means that an 80 pound student should carry a bag that is 8 pounds or less.
- If the bag is too heavy and overloaded, consider carrying 1 or 2 items in your arms.
- Place the heaviest items in the back of the bag so it is up against the child's back.
- Take a look at how the child wears the backpack---it should be worn with straps snug so the bag is right up against the back. The bottom of the bag should not be lower than 4 inches below the child's waistline.
- Choose a bag with well-padded shoulder straps.
- If there is consistently a heavy load to carry, consider a backpack on wheels. These bags actually weigh about 4-5 pounds more than a regular backpack so they are best if the school is one level without steps.
For more info and ideas to promote backpack awareness at YOUR school, head over AOTA's website where you'll find links and handouts to share!
Jen Dermody, OTR/L