Back Pain Backpacks Hand Hand Therapy

Advice from a Certified Hand Therapist – Backpack Awareness

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“Pack it Light, Wear it Right” 

Q: As a parent of elementary school children and teens, I’ve often wondered if the books they are carrying in their backpacks are too heavy.

A: Your intuition is on track. Statistics tell us that 79 million students in the U.S. carry heavy loads in backpacks. The risk associated with having back pain at an early age is that it often lasts through adulthood. In 2013, the U.S. Consumer Product and Safety Commission reported nearly 22,200 strains, sprains, fractures and dislocations from school-age children and young adults carrying backpacks who were treated in emergency rooms, physician offices and clinics.

Q: Are there guidelines for the weight these children should be carrying in their backpacks? 

A: Yes there is, and it is easy to remember. The backpack should not weigh more than 10% of the child’s body weight. Students and parents need to pay serious attention to this guideline. One study showed 55% of students carried backpacks heavier than the guideline.

Here are some tips to consider when purchasing your child’s school backpack this month (follow the links below for more details):

  • Size – Length should extend 2 inches below the shoulder blade or to waist level.
  • Shoulders – Well-padded shoulder straps worn on both shoulders for even weight distribution.
  • Hip or Chest Belt – These are preferred to take strain off the sensitive neck and shoulder muscles.
  • Pack it Light, Wear it Right – Pack heaviest books closest to child’s back and arrange books so they won’t slide around. Consider a backpack on wheels if the weight frequently exceeds the guidelines.

Be certain to have your child try on the backpack before purchasing!

Just one more tip – look for occupational therapists at your child’s school offering to weigh the backpack. The American Occupational Therapy Association declares a National Backpack Awareness Day each year, and it’s coming up September 21, 2016!

Backpack Facts: What’s All the Flap About? 

Backpack Strategies for Parents and Students


Heidi Hermann Wright, DHS, MBA, OTR, CHT is an occupational therapist and Certified Hand Therapist, as well as a member of the American Society of Hand Therapists.

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