Using Occupational Therapy Tips For Backpack Use

For 79 million school-age children in the U.S., academic demands and home-school communication requires the daily use of a backpack. According to the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA), more than 2,000 backpack-related injuries are reported in doctor offices and emergency rooms across the country each year. These injuries are related to a number of factors, most notably the result of wearing backpacks that are too heavy or that are worn incorrectly. One study, from a university in Portugal, found that 64% of adolescents and teenagers reported back pain, both acute and chronic, related to heavy backpacks, as did 85% of college students.

Good backpack habits from a young age can affect a child’s health and well-being far into the future. Read below for tips from the AOTA on safe backpack usage to help prevent your child from short-term and long-term physical damage:

  • Backpacks should never exceed 10% of the wearer’s body weight; a 100-lb child should never carry a backpack heavier than 10 lbs
  • Backpacks should be worn with the straps pulled taut so that the pack is close to the body; backpacks that fall away from the body will cause more stress to the shoulders and spine
  • Both straps should always be worn; using just one shoulder can cause spinal curvature and stress to one side of the body
  • Backpacks should extend from 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level – backpacks that are larger, or worn lower, may have a negative effect on posture and spinal health
  • Shoulder straps should be well-padded to prevent the pinching of blood vessels in the shoulder that can lead to tingling and loss of sensation in the arms
  • Help your child pack their backpack correctly by ensuring that they aren’t carrying unnecessary items, and putting the heaviest items in the back, closer to the larger muscles of the back

If your child, especially your teenager, just has too much to carry to meet some of these guidelines, find out if their school will allow a rolling backpack. Hand-carrying a couple books is another alternative that is better for the back and posture than overstuffing the backpack itself. Help your child’s long-term back health by keeping an eye on their backpack usage, and remember the AOTA’s advice: Pack it Light, Wear it Right!