National School Backpack Awareness Day
The Importance of Backpack Safety
Tingling or pain in the neck, back, shoulders or arms, Stooped posture, weakened muscles :
Does your child complain of any of these? It may be due to carrying a backpack that is too heavy, or not worn correctly.
National Backpack Awareness Day occurs the third Wednesday of September every year. This year it will be September 19, 2012.
This day was instituted by the American Occupational Therapist Association to help the communities realize how much impact a heavy backpack might have on the future health of our youth.
Backpack Safety Videos
Are you shopping for a new backpack?
Be sure to read these tips to get a safe one for you or your child!
Are you buying a new backpack for your child this fall? Is it a safe one? Is is quality?
There are a ton of backpacks out there - some are GREAT and others are truly CRAPPY.
The backpack you buy can affect your child's overall long term health. How you pack it and teach your child to pack it can also affect back safety, and how it is carried is the most important factor in backpack safety.
Be sure your child is ergonomically correct now - and they will enjoy years of less back pain as an adult.
Tips for Backpack Safety
- Choose a good backpack. – Look for wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders resulting in pain and restricted circulation. Also, look for a padded back, which protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort. Another good feature is a waist belt to help distribute weight.
- Lighten Up! - Carry only what is needed - every object adds weight, and it adds up fast! How much is too much? As a general rule, the backpack should never weigh more than 15% of body weight, so no more than 15 lbs for a 100 lb child, or 10 1/2 lbs for a 70 lb child.
- Pack it well! - Organize the backpack to use all of its compartments so things to not move from where you packed them, and pack heavier items closest to the center of the back.
- Wear it right! - Always use both shoulder straps! Carrying a backpack over one shoulder can strain muscles and may increase curvature of the spine. Adjust the shoulder straps so it fits snuggly to the back. A backpack that hangs loosely can pull back on shoulders and strain muscles. Wear the waist belt (if there is one) and clip the top straps if they connect as both help to more evenly distribute the weight.
Be selective about what backpack you buy. It's not just a pack, it's your child's back!
What to Look For in a Backpack
- Look for wide, padded shoulder straps. Narrow straps can dig into shoulders resulting in pain and restricted circulation. Padded straps are notably more comfortable even to a child.
- Look for a padded back, which protects against sharp edges on objects inside the pack and increases comfort. At times sharp edges of books or other items in backpack could poke through and injure back.
- A waist belt to help distribute weight. - This strap is at the bottom of the backpack and goes around the waste, usually with a clip closure. If you can find a backpack that has the waist belt, it makes a significant difference in spreading out the weight, so that the low back takes some, and the upper back takes some. This helps, so that the upper back does not support the whole load.
- Sternum Strap - these are the least common, but are a great addition. It is a strap with a buckle that holds the 2 arm straps together in the front of the chest. This helps the backpack hold ITSELF on, and takes some weight off the back and shoulders.
- Another great option is to use one of the new rolling backpack (on wheels). This is a great choice for those students that need to carry a heavy load. But, remember that even the rolling backpacks will still need to be carried upstairs, and loaded onto bus, etc. They may be also difficult to roll in snow. But, with these considerations, they may be a nice alternative when the situation fits.
Information for Teachers & Occupational Therapists
National School Backpack Awareness Day is a great time to educate students and parents (and other educators) about the importance of backpack safety. Here are a few ideas of what you can do:
- Hold a backpack safety assembly and do a skit that shows kids what to do and what to avoid doing in regards to their backpacks.
- Have a "Weigh In" at the school either formally or informally to help the students calculate their own limit of how heavy their bag should be (no more than 15% of their body weight) by weighing the child and then weighing book bags. - This takes no more than a bathroom scale and a chart, or a calculator.
- Send home informational sheets on Backpack Safety (free and printable - see below)
Free Printable Backpack Awareness Day Resources
- Printable Stickers
This is a sheet of stickers that can be printed on Avery #8293 labels - Kids love stickers !
- Printable Info Sheets
This is a great handout that can be sent home with kids, or be available at your Weigh In event.
- AOTA's - What's all the Flap about?
AOTA's info sheet - free and printable with statistics on backpack safety - great info for your weigh in event (the info is also shared below on this page)
Great Backpacks - Buy Quality - It is your child's back, not just their pack!
Provided they are of the right size for your child, these are great backpacks. Notice the padded shoulder straps, and the waist strap. I have also included some good rolling ones.
Pack it Light, and Wear it Right!
LL Bean has partnered with the AOTA !
LL Bean Backpacks are just what you need - they have partnered with the AOTA to be sure they have what is needed in a backpack!
You can often find them in places other than the actual LL Bean store - here are some on ebay :
Things to think about when packing a backpack
About 55% of students carry a backpack heavier than the recommended limit of 15% of the student's total body weight. (source)Teach your child how to properly pack a backpack to provide the best load to carry - and save their back - through the years.
- When loading bag - put the heaviest items (such as big books) closest to the back of the backpack - this will help keep the bulk of the load close and easiest to carry. This is the safest option, and the most important when packing the bag.
- Place all items so that they will not shift during transport. Use the separate sections for small items. Many backpacks have elastic sections to help hold the books from moving - use them! If books and materials are kept tight, they will not slide around, and will not cause extra stress on back.
- Do not over pack. If the items is not needed, leave it at home or leave it at school. Too many times kids carry extra things (toys, cd players, etc.) and this can weigh them down. Sometimes books are totted just because they always carry them. If they can leave the books at home and not carry back (some books are used for homework but not in class etc) it would certainly save on the load.
- If there is no way to keep the load below the limit, you may want to invest in a wheeled product. Either a bookbag on wheels, or another type of wheeled transportation device. This is a situation that often comes up for college students that commute. They do not always have an appropriate place to leave their supplies, and end up carrying heavy loads daily. (I was one of these, I carried over 50 lbs in a bag over my shoulder to class and between classes, because the parking lot was too far to access during the day - I had several broken blood vessels during these days, so this is important topic to me)
- And remember - if something needs to be transported, and it is above the 15% limit. It can still be carried, just in a different way. Do not put it on the back, use another bag (such as lunch box) or just carry it under the arm. The 15% is what is suggested for the back. Carrying a book in your arm in front of the body can actually help counter act the pull of the backpack - it is fine and acceptable to carry a book in front. (of course, do not load up on extras, as they do weigh you down in general too...
Backpack Statistics - Source: AOTA Fact Sheet : What is all the Flap About?
This info was all directly taken from AOTA's Fact Sheet : Backpack Facts:What's All the Flap About?
This can be found in the link in the section above - it is free and printable for your Backpack Awareness Day Event! (used here with permission from www.aota.org representatives)
- More than 79 million students in the United States carry school backpacks.
- More than 23,000 backpack-related injuries were treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctor's offices, and clinics in 2007.
- It is recommended that a loaded backpack should never weight more than 15% of the student's total body weight (for a student weighing 100 pounds, this means that the backpack should weight no more than 15 pounds).
- In one study with American students ages 11 to 15 years, 64% reported back pain related to heavy backpacks. Twenty one percent reported the pain lasting more than 6 months.
- In a study on the effect of backpack education on student behavior and health, nearly 8 out of 10 middle school students who changed how they loaded and wore their backpacks reported less pain and strain in their backs, necks, and shoulders.
- According to a study by Boston University, approximately 85% of university students self-report a discomfort and pain associated with backpack usage.
- The way backpacks are worn affects your health. The height of the backpack should extend from approximately 2 inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist. It is recommended that individuals always wear the backpack on both shoulders so the weight is evenly distributed.
What size backpack should I buy?
Where should the backpack be on the back?
If the bag is too big, it will be too low, hence pulling with greater forces on the shoulder. Backpacks come in different sizes - so be sure to get one that fits your child properly to give the the best support.
If the backpack is correct size, and worn properly - The backpack should start approx. 2 inches below the shoulders, and end no lower than 3 inches below the waist.
-Backpacks that are appearing higher at the shoulder, are adjusted too tightly on the straps.
Fix = Loosen straps some (this will alleviate some stress on shoulders.
-Backpacks that are appearing lower are either too loose or too big.
Fix = If too loose is easy fix - tighten shoulder straps to be sure that it is not too low on back (but be sure you do not go above that 2 inch rule at shoulder)
Fix = If the pack cannot be 2 inches below shoulder AND less than 3 inches below waist - it is too big and requires replacement for safety.
Photo copyright by bechand. All rights reserved
More great backpacks with more kid styles
Homeschool Backpack Concerns
Sometimes children that are home schooled carry backpacks as much or even more than kids in regular schools. They are often taught more hands on, and more on the run. Homeschooling parents need to keep this in mind, and keep to the rules to avoid unneeded stress on their children's bodies. The homeschooling parent should keep an extra tote etc, available in the car, to store stuff that is not needed for the outing, or help support the load themselves. 15% adds up fast when it comes to school supplies !
More on wheels
Occupational Therapists are trained in helping children and adults with a broad range of issues including ergonomics. Ergonomics is the science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the person doing them. This applies to both school situations for children and workplaces for adults. Often these are assessed by OT's to promote the healthiest, safest environment and to prevent pain, injury or disability. If you have a concern you can contact an occupational therapist at your local school, hospital or outpatient clinic. We are always happy to help out!
I myself am an occupational therapist - I have 15 years experience helping people "Live Life to its Fullest". I hope I gave you some info to help you today too.
For more info on Occupational Therapy Visit: www.aota.org.
Where Can I Get A Good Backpack For My Child? - What namebrands have good ergonomic bookbags ?
Are you wondering where to get the right backpack? Here are some of my ideas ...
- L.L. Bean !
L.L. Bean has all the right options available ! This is the company that has connections with the American Occupational Therapy Association and they have designed their bags to be EXACTLY what you should have. This is a GREAT place to get your backpack, and it is also Quality ! They also have a great warranty - so check out your local L.L. Bean store or online - I have listed several of them here on this page too. You do not have to get it directly from them, Amazon, and Ebay and other places sell L.L. Bean, sometimes cheaper than the L.L. Bean stores. They also sell the other brands listed below !
- High Sierra
- High Peak
- North Face
- Any namebrand could have the right qualities - just remember the principles listed here - and check out your local big box stores and local boutiques - you may find a perfect one in a store near you !
You can find great backpacks locally in your walmart or other big box stores once you know what your looking for.
Click on the backpacks below to go to walmart.com to see a selection that might be at your local store!
Hundreds of kids will be heading back to school with their backpacks slung over their shoulders, ready for a new year of school. Make sure YOUR child is protected by a good backpack, packed light and well - and worn correctly!