The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) puts on an event every year called National School Backpack Awareness Day to help raise awareness of how to properly wear a backpack as well as promote the profession of occupational therapy. This day is coming up this week! It is on September 21st, 2016. Some of the local schools might have a group of occupational therapists come by the classroom and give a presentation on good form and body mechanics. Backpack Day is a great way for kids and adults learn about the serious health effects that backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly have on children and provides tips and strategies on how to prevent these health risks from happening. About 55% of children wear backpacks that are heavier than the recommended amount which led to over 2,000 backpack related injuries seen in the ER (See “What’s All the Flap About” for more statistics). Wearing a backpack incorrectly or that is too heavy can have major health consequences such as back and neck pain, tingling and numbness in the arms and legs, spinal damage, and changes in posture.
So what can you do? EASY! Here are some easy steps to follow to ensure your child is wearing his/her backpack correctly and safely (See “Backpack Strategies for Parents” and “1, 2, 3s of Basic Backpack wearing” handouts for more information).
Pack it light! A backpack should weigh NO MORE than 10% of the child’s body weight. Heavy backpacks can cause falls and spinal damage.
Pack it right! The heaviest items should be placed closest to the back and lighter items can be placed closer to the front of the pack.
Pick it up! Use your legs to bend down and pick up a backpack. This will avoid strain on the back and neck while picking up and putting down a pack.
Wear it right! The backpack should rest snugly against the back and make sure the backpack does not extend past your child’s shoulders, or below the top of the hipbones.
Adjust and carry! Always use both shoulder straps to carry a backpack. It is best if the sternum strap and the hip belt are secured and fit comfortably around the child. This adds support to prevent back problems from occurring.
Watch out for warning signs! Signs that a backpack is too heavy include:
- Difficulty when putting on or taking off the backpack
- Pain when wearing the backpack
- Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs
- Red strap marks over the anterior part of the shoulders
- Any change in side to side posture while wearing the backpack