Backpacks: Pack ’em light, wear ’em right

More than 500 backpack events were held in the United States last year.

Devin Henry

Many lessons students learn on campus prepare their minds for the future, but some can also save their bodies starting today.

The University’s Occupational Therapy program will host a “Backpack Awareness Day” today from 2 to 4 p.m. at Coffman Union to bring attention to possible injuries that can arise when a student wears a backpack improperly.

At the event, students will be able to get their backpacks weighed and receive information about how to properly wear a backpack.

Peggy Martin, director of the University’s Occupational Therapy Program, said it’s important for students to be aware of how to properly wear and pack a backpack.

“It’s the beginning of a new school year,” Martin said, “and it’s time to get the word out that carrying heavy backpacks can cause problems to students’ health.”

Last year, more than 500 events like this one were held nationwide.

Martin said common backpack-related injuries range from basic shoulder and back pain to more serious issues, such as nerve problems caused by tight straps and precursors to scoliosis.

“There are a lot of causes of back problems,” Martin said, “but (wearing a backpack) is an everyday thing; all students use them, and they can cause wear and tear on the body.”

Occupational therapy graduate students Elizabeth Russell and Linnea Vantrease, who helped organize the event, both said it’s important for students to recognize the way they treat their bodies, or they’ll face the consequences.

“Six out of 10 students aged nine through 20 report back pain related to backpack use,” Vantrease said.

Russell and Vantrease proposed many ways for students to take control of their health.

Russell said there are simple, if unconventional, ways to take pressure off one’s back, such as using a bag on wheels.

However, Martin said the simplest way to change poor backpack habits is to pack smarter.

Students should place heavy items closest to their back, and use both shoulder straps, she said.

“Only carry what you need to,” she said. “You have a laptop and four textbooks in your backpack and you have maxed out.”

Organic chemistry professor Steven Kass said he doesn’t require students to bring textbooks to his class.

Although he said he understands the predicament of hauling around large textbooks, Kass said students have other options.

“Depending on how far away you live, you don’t have to schlep all your textbooks along at the same time,” Kass said. “One just needs to take them where they need to study.”

First-year forest resources management student Marcus Mooney said he sometimes hauls five textbooks with him at one time.

“I chose to have all my classes right in a row in the mornings,” he said, which means he sometimes has books for calculus, chemistry, writing and music classes in his backpack at the same time.

Mooney said he hasn’t experienced problems related to a heavy backpack.

“I use both straps on my bag, and I am in decent shape, so I don’t have any bad back pain,” he said.

Vantrease warned against these habits for most people.

“You can fix backpack problems right now, but chronic back problems can be painful in the future,” she said. “It’s always a good rule of thumb to only pack your backpack within 15 percent of your body weight.”

Martin said she encourages students to attend the event.

“How you carry a backpack is an especially hard habit to change,” she said. “Once you create a healthier habit, it will not be as effortful to have healthy routines.”