Backpack Safety Guidelines

According to the US Census Bureau approximately, 55.5 million pre-kindergarten to 12th grade students enrolled in school for the fall of 2011. Statistics indicate (Matthew Dobbs, MD) between 30% – 50% of adolescent students complained of pain related to backpack use and 10% – 19% missed school or sports activities because of injury do to wearing heavy backpacks.

Two groups of students are most at risk. First are girls aged 11 – 16 do to their rapid growth spurt during this time. The second group are kids who walk to school. This is because of the length of time spent carrying heavy packs.

Backpack Safety Precautions

Although usually temporary, and not likely to cause permanent damage, injury can be prevented by taking these key backpack safety precautions.

1. Weight Calculation: The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends that a student should never carry a backpack weighing more than 15 percent of their body weight.

2. Adjusting The Backpack: Adjust the shoulder straps on the backpack so that it rests about 2 inches above the waist. The shoulder straps should also be snug but not tight. The wearer should be able to move his/her arms freely and not feel any pinching or pain. The waist strap should also be adjusted so that it is tight. It should rest directly over the belt. Otherwise, if the waist strap is loose the weight will not be distributed to the midpoint of the body.

3. Packing The Backpack: Weight should be evenly distributed throughout the backpack. Utilize the various compartments to balance the items. Place heavier items such as thick textbooks closer to the center of the pack. Lighter items such as clothing can be placed around the heavier items.

4. Wearing The Backpack: Students should always use both the shoulder straps and waist strap when wearing the backpack. He should avoid wearing the backpack on just one shoulder. Additionally, they should avoid wearing the backpack loosely, where the shoulder straps are not snug and the backpack cascades away from the body. This puts stress on the back muscles.

Negative Effects Of Improper Usage

If a student is wearing a backpack that is too heavy, the excess weight can pull the student backwards. To remain upright, he/she must then compensate by bending forward or arching their back. This can cause neck, shoulder or back pain as portions of the spine are manipulated in an unnatural manner. Keep an eye out for injuries that occur from improper backpack usage. Signs include:

  • Trouble putting on or taking off the backpack.
  •  Stooped posture.
  • Pain when wearing the backpack.
  • Tingling in the arms.

If any of these symptoms occur refrain from utilizing the backpack and seek the advice of a medical professional.


Ways To Lighten The Backpack

1. Encourage students to take only what they need. Each night ask them to remove items no longer needed for the next day.
2. Encourage students to use their locker or desk. They can place books and papers in these locations until they are needed for class.

Teach your child about how backpacks should be properly pack and worn using the information above. If you see his/her good habits eroding, gently remind them of the negative effects that can happen with improper backpack use.

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