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Don’t Send Kids Back to School with Back Trouble

Occupational Therapist Urges Students to Pack Light

It’s a common sight – the first day of school and children of all sizes are walking into school with backpacks that look to be as big as them and just as heavy. It could be a recipe for a lifetime of back pain, according to Rachel Hagemeyer, occupational therapist at The Nebraska Medical Center.

“It’s something people don’t often think about when it’s time to go back to school,” Hagemeyer says. “But research from the American Occupational Therapy Association that has shown that 2,000 children go to emergency rooms and doctors’ offices every year with backpack-related injuries.”

Hagemeyer says there are three things of which parents should be aware when picking out a backpack for their child:

  • Correct size
    “Something that’s the correct size for a high schooler is not the correct size for a kindergartner,” she says. For proper fit, Hagemeyer says the top of the backpack should sit about two inches below shoulder level at the top and just above the student’s waistline on the bottom.
  • Type of straps
    “You want a bag with two shoulder straps and not just one,” she says. “You do not want uneven tension on the back.” Hagemeyer recommends backpacks with padded, adjustable straps.
  • Weight of the backpack
    “The weight of the backpack should be only 10% of the child’s weight,” Hagemeyer says. “Most kids far exceed that, especially in middle and high school.” She suggests students carry excess books and supplies that cause the backpack to exceed the 10% limit. Hagemeyer encourages parents to watch children for signs of being overloaded by their backpacks. “

Any time a kid takes off their backpack and is exasperated, or if they have pain, numbness or tingling through the arms and hands, shoulders and neck, that’s a sign that it may be too heavy.”

Hagemeyer says back injuries sustained in children can them into adulthood.


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