Keeping You Body Wise: National School Backpack Awareness Day

by admin September 15, 2010
National School Backpack Awareness Day celebrates its 10th anniversary today. With the school year in full swing, it is important to educate children on how to properly pack, lift and carry their backpacks in order to avoid potential back injuries.
According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc. (AOTA) website, it is recommended that a loaded backpack should never weigh more than 15 percent of the students total body weight. For a 70 pound child, his or her backpack should weigh no more than 10.5 pounds. Furthermore, the height of the backpack should extend approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above waste level. Students should always wear the backpack on both shoulders so that the weight is evenly distributed.

“The most frequently seen issue is muscle spasms caused by students wearing their backpacks on one shoulder,” said Dr. Troy Trimble, D.O., board certified orthopaedic surgeon at The Orthopaedic Institute. “An even distribution of weight is the best way to prevent shoulder, neck and back pain.”

To help with the weight of the backpack, make sure that all items in the backpack are necessary for the day’s activitities. If the students’ backpack is still too heavy, try having him or her carry a book or other item by hand. A book bag on wheels is another option for children whose bags are too heavy on a regular basis, although many school districts now prohibit them.
With heavy backpacks, the key to comfort is making sure that the backpack is placed so that the weight is transferred to the hips. The spine should just be used for support, said Dr. Trimble.

The AOTA website also offers tips for teaching students how to safely wear backpacks: 
  • With children in Kindergarten through Grade two, it’s more effective to communicate simple rules for wearing backpacks. Tell them to wear two straps, close to the back and above the rear. Also, ask children to demonstrate correct versus incorrect postures with backpacks.
  •  For children grades three through five, use a skeleton model to offer a simple anatomical lesson on where the backpack should be placed on the body. Also, show body locations that can be injured by improperly wearing a backpack.
  • Starting with a pretest of current backpack behaviors to promote self reflection is most effective with students in grades six through 12. Discuss appropriate backpack wearing strategies, emphasizing how the backpack should look on their bodies. Offering facts about injury rates and statistics related to the causes of injury and body parts injured may also be helpful.

While wearing a backpack improperly is unlikely to cause serious back injuries, teaching proper posture and healthy back habits at a young age can help prevent future spinal damage and improve overall back health. It will also give children one less excuse for missing school!


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