Backpack Safety: Raising Awareness to Ease Discomfort

Each September, the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) calls for advocacy for backpack safety awareness.

National School Backpack Awareness Day is on Sept. 20, 2023, and emphasizes wearing backpacks safely to prevent students from acquiring orthopedic issues or injuries related to improper use of book bags.  

Some ergonomic recommendations for students and parents to be aware of include: 

  1. Make the backpack light! A backpack should only be 10-15% of the student’s total body weight. 

  2. Distribute items methodically. Place heavier objects closer to the body (in the back of the backpack) and lighter objects in smaller pockets away from the body.  

  3. Tightly adjust the straps. Backpack straps should be adjusted tightly so they are high up on the back and the bottom of the backpack is two to three inches above waist height. 

  4. Look for discomfort. Check for backpack safety by looking at a student's facial expression (i.e., grimacing), difficulties lifting a bag, reports of numbness or tingling in arms or hands, or redness on arms or shoulders from backpack straps. 

  5. Utilize locker space. Have students use their lockers in between classes, download e-books to an iPad or laptop to avoid lugging heavy textbooks, or keep two copies (one at home and one in school) if their school or district allows for this.

  6. Practice safe lifting. Encourage bending at the knees as opposed to leaning with the lower back when lifting a backpack from the floor. 

In addition to these tips, some local schools and universities may run events labeled as “backpack clinics” where they weigh bags and help students to properly organize their materials. It is important to educate students about organizing their backpack space wisely to avoid muscle fatigue and strain on the spinal cord, especially in developing children. Backpack organization and awareness bring you one step closer to being able to prevent future joint and muscle conditions from early onset. 


Author: Lourice Adili, OTR/L

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Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered as professional advice. The content is based on the author's personal experiences, research, and opinions. It is always recommended to consult with a qualified professional or expert before making any decisions or taking action based on the information provided in this blog.

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