Are you Wearing your Backpack Correctly? National Backpack Awareness Day
Now that school is in full swing, assignments are piling up, and students’ backpacks are getting heavier. It is no surprise that lugging around a school backpack is rather uncomfortable, but wearing a heavy backpack can actually lead to serious chronic back pain and injury. Eighty-five percent of university students report pain and strain in their necks, backs, and shoulders, and thousands of students visit emergency rooms annually for backpack-related injuries. Each year, the American Occupational Therapy Association celebrates National School Backpack Awareness Day to raise awareness for this common issue and to give practical advice to students of all ages.
If your child struggles to put on or remove their backpack; experiences a change in posture while wearing the backpack; feels tingling or numbness in the arms, hands, or fingers; or develops red marks on the shoulders; their backpack is probably too heavy. A loaded backpack should not weigh more than 10-15% of the student’s total body weight. Aside from weight, there are other factors to consider when selecting, packing, and wearing a backpack. Taking conscious measures in considering these factors will help reduce and prevent pain and injury from wearing a backpack every day.
When selecting a backpack, you should consider the size and features.
1. A backpack should extend from 2” below the shoulder blades, to slightly below the waist - It should not be wider or longer than the torso.
2. Avoid buying an oversized backpack that the student can “grow into,” for a well-fitting backpack will discourage overpacking and thus adding extra weight.
3. Select a sturdy backpack with comfortable, padded straps and back. Make sure to adjust the straps so that the backpack fits snugly against the back, as a backpack that hangs loosely away from the body puts a strain on the muscles. Utilizing additional features including chest and waist straps will transfer more weight off of the back.
Once you have the proper backpack, it must be used correctly in order to prevent pain and injury.
1. Make sure that the backpack is properly packed in order to distribute the weight as best as possible. The heavier items should be packed on the bottom, closest to the student’s back, while the lighter items should be toward the top and front of the bag.
2. Students should bend at the knees in order to pick up their backpack, as opposed to leaning over at the waist.
3. Although many students will want to attempt a “cool” look by slinging their bags over just one shoulder, backpacks should always be worn on both shoulders for even weight distribution.
Students should only carry what is absolutely necessary inside their backpacks. If possible, students should make use of storing items in their lockers and/or desks. Consider using an additional rolling bag for transporting larger, heavier items such as musical instruments or sports equipment.
If you or your child has concerns about whether they have chosen the correct backpack or are wearing their backpack correctly, seek out an occupational or physical therapist for confirmation. If your child is having pain in her neck, shoulders, back or hips throughout the school year, then seek out an occupational or physical therapist sooner than later to work on stretching, strengthening and postural correction exercises to make sure their pain doesn’t turn into a more serious problem. You can find a physical or occupational therapist through the