Child Backpack Safety

By: Cheryl “Chae” Dimapasoc Canon, PT, DPT;  OptimisPT Director of Implementation and Compliance

Kids across the country are returning to in-person learning and that means they will likely be carrying their learning materials in their backpacks.  Have you ever picked up your child’s backpack and noticed that it feels like a 40 pound ton of bricks?  According to the American Occupational Therapy Association, more than 79 million students in the United States carry a backpack and an estimated 55 percent of them are carrying a backpack that is too heavy, which equates to 43 million students that may strain muscles and joints and may cause back pain if they’re too heavy or not used correctly.

National School Backpack Awareness Day is September 15.  Doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10% to 20% of their body weight in their packs, but many carry much more than that.  Backpacks that are too heavy can cause a lot of problems for kids, like back, neck and shoulder pain, as well as poor posture. There are many things parents can do to help mitigate these issues.

  1.  Start with an ergonomic backpack
    • An appropriate size: A backpack should not be wider than your child’s torso or hang more than 4 inches below the waist
    • Wide, padded shoulder straps (narrow straps can dig into the shoulder area and cause symptoms into the upper extremities)
    • Lightweight backpack
    • Waist strap/chest strap: help distribute the weight of the backpack more evenly across your child’s back
    • Padded back to protect against contents inside the backpack poking into your child’s back
  2. Consider a rolling backpack
  3. If the child has a locker, consider stopping often to unload heavy books
  4. If possible, purchase a 2nd set of books for home
  5. Encourage your child to use their backpack properly; even though they have two straps, you’ll often see kids carrying their backpacks with one and throwing their posture off
  6. Pack heavier items toward the center of the back

Share these guidelines to help your family use backpacks safely. A great way to educate the community and promote your services is to hold a “back-to-school” healthy screening that includes weighing the child’s backpack and letting the family know if it is above the recommended weight.  Host a booth at a community or school expo and include backpack safety, “studying posture” and other areas that could be great for injury prevention in kids.

National School Backpack Awareness Day is going international, and will officially take place on World OT Day on October 27, 2021. You can learn more about International Backpack Safety Awareness Day by visiting Promoting Occupational Therapy. Go to the World OT Day on Promote OT to look for Backpack Awareness Day and more!