As homework piles up, so does book weight. Does your child have the best-fitting, most-supportive backpack to carry the load?

Choosing a backpack that works for both parent and child can be challenging. While parents look to the backpack to provide a comfortable, safe way for their children to carry belongings to school, kids have a different agenda. To them, having a backpack that looks cool can help create a sense of personal style. While you want to give your child the freedom to express themself, the health merits of a pack should trump what's printed on it.

Injuries from ill-fitting or incorrectly worn packs include strains, sprains, and fractures of the back and shoulders, as well as contusions. Children are particularly susceptible to these injuries because their bodies are still developing. Before you let your child choose a favourite pack, consider some simple guidelines to be sure the choice is safe:

1. Choose the right features.
Though your child may argue that the right features relate to a certain logo or brand, what's really important is to select a lightweight pack that's equipped with the following:

  • Two wide, padded shoulder straps--narrowstraps can cause shoulder discomfort
  • Padded back section: for increased comfort and to avoid sharp objects like pens and pencils from poking through
  • Multiple compartments: to help with weight distribution
  • Waist belt: to distribute weight more evenly across the body
  • Wheels: packs with wheels can be handy for days that require particularly heavy loads

2. Choose the right size.
To decrease risk of injury, it's important to ensure a proper fit. According to Dr. Kathryn McLeod of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine at Georgia Health Sciences System, a pack shouldn't cover more than 75 percent of the length of your child's back--approximately the area between the waist and shoulder blades.

3. Wear it correctly.
Even the most ergonomic and best-fitting pack can be a hazard if it's not worn properly. Follow these steps for proper use:
Pack lightly.
Pediatricians and physical therapists alike suggestthat a filled backpack shouldn't weigh more than 15 percent of your child's body weight. For a 30 Kilograms child, for example, that's 4.5 kilograms. Weigh the pack when in doubt or take notice when your child is leaning forward to carry it. When your child's pack is too heavy, you can help figure out what items might not be necessary.

Lift correctly.
When rushing out the door with a pack, children have a tendency to sling it across one shoulder and go. Help your child resist this urge and avoid possible injury by demonstrating the proper way to put on a backpack. Bend at the knees to lift the pack and let the legs do the lifting instead of the back. Lift with both hands to check the weight of the pack, and then put on one shoulder strap at a time.

Wear properly.
It's vital that both straps are used to avoid putting too much strain on one side of the body. Ensure that the straps are adjusted for your child's frame so that the pack fits snugly but isn't overly tight.Place the heaviest items closest to your child's back, as these require the most body support. If available, use the waist strap to help distribute the load more evenly. When worn correctly, the bag should rest evenly in the middle of the back.