If you have a school-aged child or remember your own school days, chances are you’ve seen a student carrying around an overloaded backpack. But while this may seem like a minor inconvenience, book bags filled with heavy school supplies can actually have long-term effects on a child’s shoulders, neck and back. To help prevent injuries, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) chooses to recognize the third Wednesday of each September as National School Backpack Awareness Day. For 2017, it is observed on September 20.
Crowded schools, heavy textbooks, and insufficient locker space often force kids to carry backpacks that are heavier than they need to be. As a result, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reports that 14,000 children seek treatment for backpack-related injuries every year.
What Happens When Kids Carry More Than They Can Handle?
A child wearing a backpack incorrectly or that is too heavy can cause pain or injuries that can affect them well into adulthood. Putting too much weight on the shoulders of a child that is still growing can:
- Cause discomfort, fatigue and muscle soreness
- Alter their posture
- Compress the spine
- Impair growth
How to Prevent Backpack Injuries
As a general rule, research shows a no person's backpack should be no more than 10 to 20 percent of their body weight to avoid pain or potential injury.
To help prevent injuries, the AOTA also Recommends:
- Positioning the heaviest items in the middle of the backpack – closest to the wearer’s back.
- Ensuring backpacks are appropriate for the wearer’s size. The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist.
- Choosing backpacks with padded shoulder straps and a cushioned back.
- Wearing both shoulder straps so the weight is evenly distributed, and utilizing the waist belt if the backpack has one.
- Checking that the items the child is carrying are necessary for the day’s activities.
- Considering book bags on wheels, provided the school allows them, if a child must regularly carry heavy loads.