UF expert offers tips on avoiding backpack injuries in children

In the rush to buy back-to-school supplies for their children, parents may unknowingly purchase backpacks that do more harm than good, warns a University of Florida occupational therapist.

More than 7,000 emergency room visits in 2001 were attributed to backpack related injuries in children. In one study of American students, published in the Indian Journal of Pediatrics, six out of 10 students ages 9 to 20 reported chronic back pain related to heavy backpacks.

Overloaded and improperly worn backpacks can result in chronic back pain, poor posture, and numbness in the hands and arms, said Joanne Jackson Foss, Ph.D., a lecturer and director of professional programs in the UF College of Health Professions’ department of occupational therapy. However, parents can follow certain guidelines when choosing a backpack for their child in order to prevent injuries.

Opt for backpacks that are in proportion to your child’s size and have padded straps, Foss said. Avoid the temptation of bigger is better when selecting the size of a pack. Backpacks with wheels are ideal but not always practical in schools with narrow hallways — check with officials at your child’s school for their recommendation.

Checking the weight of your child’s loaded backpack is key: Children should never carry a load that is more than 15 percent of their body weight.

“When fitting your child with a backpack, make sure you teach your child to wear both shoulder straps,” Foss said. “This helps to more evenly distribute the weight of the pack.”

Also, the bottom of the pack should rest in the curve of the lower back, not more than 4 inches below the child’s waistline.

The American Occupational Therapy Association Inc. offers backpack strategies for parents, students and teachers on their Web site at www.aota.org/backpack.

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Jill Pease

Public Relations Director, College of Public Health and Health Professions

Jill Pease is the public relations director for the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions. She is responsible for developing public relations and communications strategies to promote the...Read More