“Mine is red.” “Superman is on it!” “I have Princess Elsa!” No matter what is on your backpack, or the brand, the new backpack is generally one of the joys of back-to-school time. But as students get older and bigger, so does the load they bear. Do you know what is inside your child’s backpack? Overloading the backpack can be harmful to a child’s health and wellness. Research has shown that adolescents who suffer from back pain now will likely suffer from chronic back pain as an adult. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported nearly 22,000 sprains, strains, dislocations and fractures related to backpacks were treated by medical professionals in 2012. The recommended weight to be carried safely is no more than 10% of a person’s body weight. A child weighing 100 pounds should be carrying no more than 10 pounds in a pack.
The following tips can help to maintain backpack safety:
• Make sure the pack is an appropriate size compared to the body of the wearer. The pack should extend from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to the level of the waist.
• Shoulder straps should be well padded and both straps should be worn at all times. This distributes the weight evenly and prohibits unwanted twisting and compression of the spine.
• Hip and chest belts can remove strain off sensitive neck and shoulder muscles and improves the wearer’s balance. The pack should be worn snug against the body.
• Try on backpacks prior to purchase to confirm a proper fit.
• Consider two sets of supplies to eliminate carrying the items back and forth daily.
How a child packs a backpack can make a difference as well. Heavier items should be packed closer to the back and center of the backpack so that they are closest to the body. Sharp items should be positioned away from the body in the front pockets. If a backpack carrying necessary items is consistently greater than 10% of the child’s body weight, consider a backpack on wheels or carrying some books in the hands while wearing the backpack.
The same tips are true for adults who carry purses or briefcases. Only carry the most necessary items, ensure straps are well padded and that the item is carried close to the body. Using all compartments of a purse or briefcase can help to distribute the weight more evenly. When purchasing a new bag, consider the material composition and opt for nylon or cloth over leather to decrease the overall weight. Cross body straps are recommended. Regardless of bag style, altering the carrying position can help to avoid fatigue, muscle overuse and pressure on nerves that can cause numbness and tingling.
Warning signs that a backpack, purse or briefcase is too heavy include:
• Difficulty when putting on or taking off the pack or lifting the purse/briefcase
• Pain when wearing the pack
• Tingling or numbness in the arms or legs
• Reddened areas on the skin after wearing the straps
• Any change in side-to-side posture
In conjunction with AOTA’s (American Occupational Therapy Association) National Backpack Awareness Day, resources have been provided to the schools in our service area, regarding safe backpack wear and use. Look for more information to come and discuss these tips with your student(s) to help them maintain a healthy backpack habit.
For more information about backpack wearing, you can visit AOTA.org.