Karen Jacobs has been hearing a lot of complaints lately from students with pain in their necks and shoulders. And the occupational therapist and clinical professor at Sargent College of Health & Rehabilitation Sciences knows exactly what the problem is: larger and heavier loads in backpacks. What was once essentially a book bag, she says, now carries everything from laptops to lunch.
How do you know if your backpack is too heavy? Jacobs (SAR’79) suggests that if it weighs more than 10 to 15 percent of the weight of the person carrying it, it’s time to lighten up. And if you find yourself leaning to one side or if you have red indentations on your shoulders, it’s definitely time to take something out of the pack.
“The good news,” says Jacobs, “is that with education on how to pick the right backpack, how to pack it correctly, and how to wear it correctly, we can really eliminate some of the concerns we’re seeing with backpack use.”
Jacobs offers the following tips on how to buy, pack, and carry a backpack.
How to pack a backpack
- Place the heaviest items toward the back.
- Secure items so they don’t slide around.
- Arrange pointy objects so they don’t poke you in the back.
How to keep the weight off
- Carry water bottles empty. Fill them before class.
- Carry only what you need. Leave the rest in your room.
How to choose a backpack
- Look for ample padding in the back and shoulder straps. The straps should be curved and at least two inches wide.
- Choose a pack with hip belts and chest straps to better distribute the weight and secure the backpack to your back.
- Choose a pack with multiple compartments so you can distribute the weight more evenly.
How to wear a backpack
- The height of the backpack should extend from approximately two inches below the shoulder blades to waist level or slightly above the waist.
- Always wear the backpack on both shoulders so the weight is evenly distributed.
As part of National School Backpack Awareness Day, on Wednesday, September 21, 2011, the Sargent College Rotaract Club will hold a weigh-in at Sargent for students concerned about how much they should be carrying in their backpacks. More information is available here.
This article was originally published August 25, 2008.