National School Backpack Awareness Day
People with back pain, raise your hands!
If you were reading this out loud in a crowded room, you’d see a lot of hands.
How about this: People with giant, heavy backpacks, raise your hands!
Is it a coincidence that, again, you’d see a sea of hands? Not at all. Wearing a heavy backpack over time leads to serious chronic back pain and injury. Even carrying a heavy bag around for a short period of time can cause significant health problems.
In fact, related injuries sent over 2,000 students to hospitals and emergency rooms in just one year, and 85 percent of university students self-report pain and strain in their necks, backs, and shoulders.
National Backpack Awareness Day is an opportunity to talk about this common issue. It’s relevant to all students, but especially highlights the importance of occupational therapists, who often help patients recover these injuries and other activities of daily living. The American Occupational Therapy Association sponsors the annual event.
With more than 79 million U.S. students wearing backpacks at any given time, the potential for injury is huge. The good news is that the problem can be easily solved with awareness and a few recommendations:
- A loaded backpack should not weigh more than 10 percent of the student’s total body weight.
- The backpack should extend from two inches below the shoulder blades to slightly above the waist.
- Students should wear the backpack on both shoulders for even weight distribution.
Let’s face it: You wouldn’t haul around a heavy backpack if you didn’t have to, and all that stuff has to go somewhere. Remember this four-step process to save you a lot of pain.
1. Select the right backpack
You’re probably used to picking a backpack based on how it looks, right? You like the color, all the little pockets, the convenient laptop slot, the leather accents. But you’ll want these backpack safety features, too:
- Comfy straps. Wide, padded, contoured straps are best for comfort; a waist strap can redistribute the weight from the neck and shoulders to the waist and hips.
- Zipper pulls. Zipper pulls make it easier to find and unzip the zipper, which is useful when you’re in a rush.
- Reflective strips. These add visibility, a safety plus, especially on short winter days.
- Also note that the place where the straps meet the pack should rest one or two inches below the top of the shoulders. The bottom of the backpack should rest in the curve of the lower back, but not more than four inches below the waist.
Related resource: 7 Lifehacks for Healthy Living as a Medical Professional
2. Pack it
The way you pack a backpack can distribute the weight so that your whole back bears the burden evenly. Heavier items like textbooks and binders should be stowed closest to the back and center. Lighter things like a lunchbox should go in the front, facing away from the body. Sharp items like pencils and pens should go on the sides of the backpack — away from the back!
3. Put it on
Pick up your backpack like you would pick up other heavy things, by bending and lifting at the knees. Do not bend over and lift with your back.
Related resource: How to Promote a Healthy Work Culture in the Medical Field
4. Adjust and carry
Adjust the backpack while you’re wearing it. Adjust the shoulder straps so that the top of the backpack is even with your shoulders; the bottom should not extend beyond the top of your hip bones. Secure the hip belt and the sternum belt (if there is one). The backpack should rest snugly against your back. And remember: It should not weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight.
At Ameritech, we know that healthy students are happier, more productive healthcare workers. Our deliberate, holistic programs are designed to support student success across all areas of life. To learn about our Occupational Therapy and other programs, visit our website.