Girl with a very heavy backpack. This girl needs help with backpack safety.

School is right around the corner for Greenville, TX students. Whether it’s back to college or the first day of kindergarten, this also means the start of backpack season.

Before too long we will start to see the hallmark signs of this season:

  • Back pain
  • Neck pain
  • Shoulder pain
  • Numbness & tingling down the arms
  • Poor Posture

Despite the increasing availability of digital resources, backpacks seem to keep getting heavier. In fact, now in addition to books, kids are likely to stuff a laptop or tablet in the bag too. Not to mention–lunch, gym clothes, and a water bottle.

The American Occupational Therapy Association recommends that a full backpack weigh no more than 10% of the wearer’s body weight. This means a 60-pound child should have a backpack that is under six pounds. That adds up quick.

A recent study of 529 children in Ireland showed an overwhelming majority of children carried school bags that were over 10% of their body weight. They also found that most schoolbag-related discomfort occurred in the shoulders.

Don’t fret though, now that we’ve given you the bad news, we are going to show you what you can do about it. And there is a lot that you can do, from picking the right pack to learning how to use it.

Get the right backpack

The first thing to think about is who the backpack is for and how big they are. A pack should not be bigger than the torso of the person who will be wearing it. According to the National Safety Council, a backpack should never hang more than four inches below the waist. They also recommend that the backpack has the following features:

— Padded back and shoulder straps to increase comfort

— Hip and chest belts to take weight off the shoulders

— Multiple compartments to distribute the load

— Compression straps to stabilize the contents

— Reflective material to increase visibility

Also, remember that the larger the pack, the more it can hold–and the heavier it will be. Get a pack that is only as big as it needs to be.

Lighten the load

Getting a backpack to under 10% of body weight can be a challenge. Here are some tips to shave off some pounds:

Take only what you need. Leave what you can at home or school.

Pack empty water bottles and fill them up at school.

Carry some of the load, like an extra heavy textbook, in your arms.

Choose lighter weight electronics (like the “air” version of a laptop).

Have two copies of each textbook; one for home and one for school.

Pack Smart

Place heavier items in the back and center of the pack–they’ll be closer to the body and be easier to carry. Evenly distribute the contents of the pack so one side is not heavier than the other. Finally, make sure the pack is secure and contents are not sliding around.

Wear it right

A backpack should be worn using two straps, and not slung over just one shoulder. Tighten all the straps to make sure the pack fits snugly against the body. Use the chest and waist straps to disperse some of the weight off of the shoulders onto the chest and hips.

Occupational Therapist, Karen Jacobs, says a backpack should be held about 2 inches below the shoulder blades to slightly above the waist.

What else can you do

Pay attention. Watch to see if your child struggles to put on or take off her pack. Encourage children (and teenagers) to tell you about any pain, numbness, or tingling they experience. These complaints should not be ignored.

Talk to your school. Make sure there is ample time between classes for children to pick up and drop off books in their locker.  See if they can provide double textbooks.

Organise a school bag weigh-in. For the American Occupational Therapy Association the third Wednesday of every September is National School Backpack Awareness Day.

Photo credit © Focus Pocus LTD via Dollar Photo Club