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Backpack Awareness: Safety tips for the whole family

The American Occupational Therapy Association’s (AOTA) National Backpack Awareness Day is being expanded to address back health throughout the lifespan.  Occupational therapists are educating community members of all ages on safety tips for the whole family, from children carrying heavy backpacks to school, to professionals lugging around a briefcase or laptop case. It is important for parents to serve as role models for their children in safely transporting items they need for the day while protect their bodies from injury.

Key Safety Tips


  • Students should not carry more than 10% of their body weight

  • Choose a backpack that is proportional to your child

  • Load heaviest items closest to the child’s back

  • Remove any items that are not necessary for the day

  • Shoulder straps should be well-padded

  • Both shoulder straps, as well as a waist band, should always be secured snugly.

  • Avoid slinging the straps over one shoulder


  • Briefcases should be proportionate to body size

  • The smaller the briefcase, the better

  • Review the contents of your briefcase and remove unnecessary items

  • Always place the heaviest items at the bottom

  • Briefcases should have adjustable, padded straps to allow for adequate weight distribution. Avoid long, thin straps

  • Alternate shoulders by switching the bag from one side to the other to avoid over-stressing one side


  • Have different suitcases for different occasions. The size of the bag should reflect the length of stay

  • Opt for lighter materials such as vinyl or canvas rather than heavier materials such as leather

  • Take two lighter bags, one in each hand, rather than carrying one heavy bag

  • Wheeled luggage should have four large wheels for easy maneuverability


  • Use different size purses for different occasions: smaller purses for short outings

  • Purses should have compartments to help distribute weight evenly

  • Shorter, wider straps will facilitate even weight distribution

  • Eliminate unnecessary or duplicate items

  • Alternate shoulders by switching the purse from one side to the other

For more information about Backpack Awareness, check out the AOTA’s website at

Blog written by Aviva Goldwasser, MS, OTR/L and Chaye Lamm Warburg, DPS, OTR/L, Director of POTS

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