Getting Ready for Back to School: Pack it Light and Wear it Right

Skatebord Man People Skater Backpack Sports

With the academic year starting in just a few weeks many students, from kindergarten to university, are making their final back to school purchases. Stocking up on school supplies is a great idea. However, when it comes to carrying those supplies back and forth to school, the American Occupational Therapy Association wants you to remember to “Pack it Light and Wear it Right”.

Carrying a backpack stuffed full of text books and other supplies can lead to discomfort, pain, and often injury. Here’s why:

  • A child’s spine is developing and the secondary centers of ossification are not fully fused until a person is in his or her mid-twenties.
  • Carrying a heavy backpack requires postural compensations so that kids can maintain balance while walking to and from school and getting off the bus. These compensations can result in changes in gait patterns, head carriage, and other alignment issues.
  • Children who carry heavy loads report increased pain, particularly girls.
  • A heavy backpack can reduce blood flow to the arms and hands, as well as lead to paresthesias  and even brachial nerve impairment, which can limit forearm, wrist, and finger function.

To reduce the backpack burden, the American Occupational Therapy Association offers several tips. First, carry only what you need to carry. A loaded backpack should only weigh about 10% of a person’s body weight; for a child weighing 50 pounds, that means only a 5 pound load. Choose a backpack with well-padded shoulder straps and be sure to use both straps, especially when your pack is heavy. Make sure the backpack rests in the lower part of the back and doesn’t extend past your waist band by more than 4 inches.


The American Occupational Therapy Association will celebrate Backpack Awareness Day on September 20, 2017.

Don’t carry a backpack? If you carry a purse or a brief case, check out these great resources:


About Dr. Susan Cahill

Dr. Susan Cahill is a former Associate Professor and Director of the MSOT Program at Lewis University. She is a Fellow of the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA) and a member of the AOTA Commission on Practice. Visit to learn more.

One thought on “Getting Ready for Back to School: Pack it Light and Wear it Right

  1. February 6, 2021 at 10:59 am

    Hi, Mam, i am a student at the Girls College in Pakistan, I have some back problems because of the backpack, so I want to know how to find the best backpack for my college that not create back pain problem thanks.

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