Backpack Awareness Day: Safety Tips for Everyone
By Stephanie Yamkovenko
Every year in September, occupational therapy practitioners and students celebrate National School Backpack Awareness Day to educate the public about the serious health risks of backpacks that are too heavy or worn improperly. Join us on September 21, 2011, as we provide safety tips to stay protected from back pain and injury.
Whether you’re a parent with a student lugging heavy books to school, or a professional hauling a filled briefcase, occupational therapy practitioners can provide you with the tools and safety tips for protecting your back from pain throughout life. More than 79 million students carry backpacks in the United States, and more than 23,000 backpack-related injuries were treated in 2007. But heavy backpacks, bags, and purses affect the health of people of all ages.
- Schoolchildren should never carry more than 10% of their body weight, and the heaviest items should be loaded closest to the child’s back. Backpacks should have well-padded shoulder straps, and students should always wear both shoulder straps fitting snugly to the child’s back. Read more ergonomic strategies for backpacks.
- Professionals carrying briefcases should choose a briefcase proportionate to their body size and no larger than what is necessary. The briefcase should have padded straps to distribute the weight more evenly, and professionals should alternate shoulders by switching bags from side to side to avoid fatigue from muscle overuse. Read more ergonomic strategies for briefcases.
- Travelers should select the right suitcase for different occasions, and the size should reflect the length of the trip. When selecting wheeled luggage, find a suitcase with four large wheels allowing for maneuverability and smooth rolling over a variety of surfaces. Read more ergonomic strategies for luggage.
- Women should select different size purses for different occasions, like a small compact purse for short errands. Purses should have built-in compartments to distribute the weight more evenly and should not have long and thin straps. Wearing a heavy purse on one shoulder can cause uneven weight distribution across the back muscles and restrict blood flow at the shoulder, so women should alternate shoulders by switching the purse from side to side. Read more ergonomic strategies for purses.
National School Backpack Awareness Day focuses on ergonomics, which is an area of occupational therapy expertise. From schoolchildren to older adults, occupational therapy practitioners consider all factors when analyzing and making recommendations about the workplace or job tasks. Practitioners take into consideration the physical, social, emotional, and cognitive components to help people live life to its fullest.
“Occupational therapy practitioners assist people of all ages with ergonomics,” says Karen Jacobs, EdD, OTR/L, CPE, FAOTA. “The training we have in biomechanics and task analysis gives us tools to help with everyday challenges like carrying a heavy backpack, briefcase, or purse.”
For ideas on ways to hold your own National School Backpack Awareness Day event, click here. To share photos and discuss your event, click here.
Stephanie Yamkovenko is AOTA’s staff writer.