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Back to School Backpack Safety

Hospital news | Sunday, September 8, 2013
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Contact: Kris Lawrence

September 18, 2013 is National School Backpack Awareness Day, an excellent opportunity to learn safety tips to avoid pain and injury that can develop from heavy backpacks and bags. Prairie du Chien Memorial Hospital’s Occupational Therapy Department reminds families that a child’s backpack should weigh no more than about 10% of the child’s weight. Angela Wagner, Department Director, explains, “This means a student weighing 100 pounds shouldn’t wear a loaded school backpack heavier than about 10 pounds. If the backpack is too heavy on a regular basis, consider using a book bag on wheels.”

Here’s a few additional tips for loading and wearing a backpack:

  • Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back (the back of the pack).
  • Arrange books and materials so they won’t slide around in the backpack.
  • Check what your child carries to school and brings home. Make sure the items are necessary for the day’s activities.
  • If the backpack is too heavy or tightly packed, your child can hand carry a book or other item outside the pack.
  • Distribute weight evenly by using both straps. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.
  • Select a pack with well-padded shoulder straps. Shoulders and necks have many blood vessels and nerves that can cause pain and tingling in the neck, arms, and hands when too much pressure is applied.
  • Adjust the shoulder straps so that the pack fits snugly on the child’s back. A pack that hangs loosely from the back can pull the child backwards and strain muscles.
  • Wear the waist belt if the backpack has one. This helps distribute the pack’s weight more evenly.
  • The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back. It should never rest more than four inches below the child’s waistline.

If your child’s backpack is too heavy, your child will walk with stooped posture, a rounded back and extended neck. Health related problems can be avoided with a properly fitted backpack making sure your child’s ears are aligned over the hips,” adds Angela Wagner. “School backpacks come in different sizes for different ages. Choose the right size pack for your child as well as one with enough room for necessary school items.”

Pictured: Nathan Rickertsen, Occupational Therapist, with Brett Wagner, son of Angela Wagner, as Brett wears a backpack fitted properly for him. Health related problems can be avoided with a properly fitted backpack making sure the ears are aligned over the hips.