Lighten your student’s load
Students who come home from school complaining of aching backs and shoulders or tingling in the arms and hands might be having a problem with backpacks that are too heavy, improperly worn or poorly packed.
Backpack-related injuries are responsible for more than 13,000 hospital and doctors’ office visits each year for kids aged 5 to 18, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In addition, a majority of students have reported discomfort and pain associated with backpack usage, according to several surveys.
Even in the absence of injury, backpacks causing pain, poor posture or other symptoms might be setting students up for chronic problems later in life.
The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) recommends that a loaded backpack should not weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of a student’s body weight.
But weight is just one of our safety considerations. Backpacks that are improperly loaded and/or worn can also cause pain and strain. For proper loading, the AOTA recommends the following:
• Load the heaviest items closest to your child’s back.
• Arrange books and other materials so they don’t slide around.
• Make sure your student is packing only what is necessary.
• Carry some books or other items by hand.
For proper wearing, the AOTA recommends the following:
• Use both straps on the backpack to evenly distribute its weight. Although the saddle bags with one strap are trendy, slinging a backpack over one shoulder can cause poor posture, curvature of the spine and pain or discomfort.
• Select a backpack with well-padded shoulder straps that ease the pressure on blood vessels and nerves in the shoulders and neck.
• Adjust the straps so the pack fits snugly on your student’s back. A loose-hanging backpack can pull the child backward and strain muscles.
• Choose a backpack with multiple compartments to help evenly distribute the weight of its contents.
• Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. Doing so helps distribute weight evenly.
• Choose the right size for your child. The bottom of the pack should rest against the curve of the lower back, and never rest more than four inches below the student’s waistline.
About 80 million students in the United States carry backpacks. They are a necessary part of going to school and a great way to carry books and other school supplies for all grades through college. Learning to use backpacks properly at a young age will help students carry those safety habits throughout their school years.
Joy Fisher, OTR/L is an occupational therapist at Grady Memorial Hospital.