Backpack Awareness is Important to Preventing Injuries
By Christina Bellini-Zaher, MS OTR/L
Principal, Therapy Center for Children, LLC
On Wednesday, September 15, occupational therapists nationwide will participate in National School Backpack Awareness Day.
Studies cited by the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) show that six out of 10 students 9-20 years of age reported backpack-related back pain. To combat this problem, AOTA has launched a “Pack it Light and Wear it Right” campaign to increase public awareness.
Here are some suggestions. Children should never carry more than 15% of their own body weight. This means, for a child who weighs 100 pounds, they should carry up to 15 pounds. Both straps of the backpack should be worn to avoid the curvature of the spine that occurs when children wear one strap and then tend to lean to the side. The straps should be adjusted to fit snugly and to allow the bottom of the backpack to remain in the curve of the lower back or above the rear. To distribute the load of weight, and to decrease the unintentional movement of the backpack, the heaviest items should be closest to the child’s back and the waist strap should be utilized. If that doesn’t work, a pull bag on wheels is a nice alternative, but may be difficult for younger children to manipulate. To help, parents should check to be sure their children are packing only items of necessity.
For young children, circle time in the classroom can be used to create mindfulness on this topic. Questions can be asked such as “What do you put in your backpack”? and “How does it feel when your backpack is too heavy”? The use of familiar characters in visual aids may help young children to recall the presented information. Rewards can be given for correct answers and handouts can be created to send home to parents. The use of a skeleton model to offer a simple anatomical lesson on where the backpack should be placed on the body and body locations that can be injured by backpacks may be interesting to older children. Older children may also benefit from questions to facilitate self-reflection on behaviors and habits related to backpack use. Weighing backpacks and utilizing math concepts can help to make it more academic.
The proper use of body mechanics is just one of the many areas in which occupational therapists work with families and their children to help them achieve maximum independence while they engage in the meaningful significant activities in their lives.
To learn more about this program, visit www.aota.org.