Backpack Safety Awareness



As the dog days of summer fade and school and fall activities loom around the corner, now is a good time to consider backpack safety. Fun fact... according to, the dog days of summer are the sultry part of the summer, supposed to occur during the period that Sirius, the Dog Star, rises at the same time as the sun: now often reckoned from July 3 to August 11; a period marked by lethargy, inactivity, or indolence.

Regardless of how we spend our summer days, the school year is rapidly approaching and backpacks top many school shopping lists. When purchasing a backpack, it is essential that the pack be sized appropriately reducing the risk of common back, neck and shoulder pain and injuries. Almost 13,000 individuals were treated in emergency rooms for backpack injuries in 2016. Almost half of those treated were children (aged 5-18). The American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) celebrates National School Backpack Awareness day annually on the third Wednesday of September. This years event will be celebrated on Wednesday September 18, 2019. Backpack awareness emphasizes packing it light and wearing it right.

When packing the backpack, there are several things to keep in mind. Utilize ALL of the separate pockets and compartments to evenly distribute the weight throughout the pack. Place heavier items closer to the back center of the backpack. Place lighter items in the front of the pack. Keep sharp items away from the back. The total load should be NO MORE than 10% of your child's weight. Once the backpack is loaded and ready for use, it must be safely placed on your child's back. To prevent back injury, do not bend and lift at the waist but rather bend and lift at the knees when picking up the backpack. Once it is placed onto the back, the pack must be appropriately adjusted for optimal carry. BOTH shoulder straps should always be utilized for optimal load distribution and injury prevention. Wearing a pack slung over one shoulder can cause leaning to one side, curving the spine causing pain and discomfort. Adjust the sternum strap and secure the hip belt so that the backpack rests securely against the back. The backpack should not extend past the shoulders or below the top of the hip bones.
There are warning signs that a backpack may be too heavy. Difficulty when putting on or taking off the pack is frequently a first sign of a problem. Any pain specifically while wearing the pack can be another red flag that the pack is incorrectly loaded and adjusted or that a different size may be indicated. Other indicators of backpack problems may include tingling and numbness in the arms and legs, red strap marks over the front of the shoulders, and any change in side to side posture while wearing the pack.


The general principles of backpack awareness can be applied to other items including purses and briefcases. Heavy purses and briefcases worn over one shoulder cause uneven weight distribution across back muscles. This places extra pressure on the nerves of the neck and shoulders, possibly resulting in pain in these areas as well as the lower back. Pain may be described as pins and needles, tingling, stiffness, numbness, or tightness. Carrying heavy purses and briefcases with your thumbs should be avoided as this places excessive pressure on the joints throughout your hands. When purchasing a purse or briefcase, do not buy any larger than needed. Consider eliminating all unnecessary contents. Purchase a size and shape proportionate to your body size. For daily use, place heavy items on the bottom and use pockets and compartments for weight distribution just as you would in a child's backpack.

In summary, there are three steps you can take to maximize backpack safety this year. First, make sure that you are selecting the correct pack as described above. Next, load the backpack as previously described, ensuring that it weighs no more than 10% of your child's body weight. Finally, inspect to be certain the backpack is being worn correctly to avoid injuries.