Sept. 19 is National School Backpack Awareness Day.
"We ask others to join the American Occupational Therapist Association Inc., occupational therapy practitioners, educators and students across the country as we help others to avoid pain and injury that can come from heavy backpacks and bags," said Stacey Sites, occupational therapists at Grant Memorial Hospital.
Sites said most doctors and physical therapists recommend that kids carry no more than 10 percent of their body weight in their packs.
"A 100-pound child should not carry more than 10 pounds in their packs. Girls and younger kids may be especially at risk for backpack-related injuries because they're smaller and may carry loads that are heavier in proportion to their body weight," she said.
Improper backpack use also can lead to poor posture. Carrying too much weight in a pack or wearing it the wrong way can lead to aching backs and shoulders, tingling arms, weakened muscles, stooped posture and strains. Carrying a heavy pack changes the way kids walk and increases the risk of falling, particularly on stairs or other places where the backpack puts the student off balance.
Backpacks with tight, narrow straps that dig into the shoulders can interfere with circulation and nerves. These types of straps can contribute to tingling, numbness and weakness in the arms and hands. Bulky or heavy backpacks don't just cause back injuries. They take up more space and injure when they fall on or hit others while turning around or going through small spaces or when others trip over them.
When selecting a backpack, parents should select one the is the right size for their child with well-padded shoulder straps. Straps should be adjusted so the pack fits snugly on the child's back, and if there is a waist belt, the child should use it. The bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back, never more than 4 inches below the child's waistline.
Tips for safer use of back packs include: use all of the backpack's compartments; put heavier items, such as textbooks, closest to the center and next to the back; arrange items so they don't slide around in the pack; carry only necessary items as required by the school, extra books can be carried in the arms; if the pack is too heavy on a regular basis and your school rules allows it, use a book bag on wheels.
For additional information about safe backpack use, call the Grant Memorial Hospital OT department at 304-257-5818, the Eastern Regional Family Resource Network at 304-822-5787 or visit www.aota.org.