How does backpack fatigue impact the school day?

AOTA Backpack Awareness Day
September 18, 2019

According to an article in the New York Times from 2009, the average elementary student’s backpack weighed five pounds.  By the time the child was in sixth grade, the weight increased to 18.4 pounds. (NYT, 2009, July 21).  The article also indicated that low-back pain was predominant in many children with heavier backpacks.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (2018), a child should carry no more than 10-20 percent of their body weight.  However, the American Occupational Therapy Association (2019), limits their recommendations to 10 percent.  Why the difference? I believe that it is our expertise in ergonomics.  Occupational therapists are trained to analyze everyday tasks and help improve the function of each person that we encounter. 

The average weight of a six-year-old (first grade) is approximately 46 pounds.  10 percent of their body weight is 4.5 pounds. For an eleven-year-old, they will have grown to around 79 pounds.  Ten percent of their body weight is 7.9 pounds. If your elementary students’ backpack is greater than 5-6 pounds, they may be having effects from a backpack that is too heavy.  If your middle schoolers pack is greater than 7-10 pounds, they too may also be impacted by backpack fatigue.

With school just around the corner, National Backpack Awareness Day is September 18, 2019.  To every parent, teachers, occupational or physical therapist, be an advocate for backpack awareness today!

Why is backpack awareness so important?

Research has shown that the added weight from a backpack causes body fatigue and body pain or tingling from the weight and improper usage (AOTA, 2019). The fatigue and pain will cause attention and focus issues during the school day.  “I’m tired.” Isn’t always due to poor sleep.  However, sleep behaviors can magnify the impact of fatigue from a backpack that is too heavy. Karen Jacobs, Ph.D., OTR/L, FAOTA (AOTA, 2019), states that the best way to wear a backpack is to use it as it was designed.

Use both shoulder straps

Use the sternum strap

Secure the hip belt

Be sure that the pack is 2-inches below the shoulder blades and stops at the waist. A pack that is too long will exponentially impact the fatigue.

Weigh-in today! 

Dr. Jacobs says, “a child wearing a backpack incorrectly or that is too heavy can be contributing risk factors for discomfort, fatigue, muscle soreness, and musculoskeletal pain especially in the lower back.”

What are you doing for Backpack Awareness Day?

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