Most of us remember carrying backpacks in school; we're also pretty familiar with the aching backs and sore necks they can cause. But backpacks don't have to be so uncomfortable - and there are ways to ease the load. Read on for backpack usage tips and guidelines for choosing the right backpack.

Start by ensuring that the backpack has padded straps - the wider the better. Wider straps help distribute the load better, meaning that there's less stress in any one area. While you're at it, consider a backpack with multiple compartments; these can help you better distribute your child's belongings and even out the load. If possible, find a backpack that has additional padding in the area that rests against your child's back. And if you find one with a waist belt, choose it - these help distribute the load more evenly and remove stress from your child's lower back.

For those on the cutting edge, consider a backpack on wheels. Similar in design to the luggage that many flight attendants now carry, they're becoming increasingly trendy and help take the load off your child's back.

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Encourage your kids to wear both straps when carrying their backpack. While it may be fashionable to carry the backpack on one shoulder, it makes their load harder to bear and focused in one area - increasing their risk of injury. Also, many kids tend to wear their backpacks "low", resting against the lower lumbar region or buttocks. Bringing the backpack up to the mid or upper back (just below the shoulders), and letting the bottom rest on the hips/pelvis is ideal. (Remember - the closer their backpack is to their body, the less strain they'll feel). If their backpack has a waist belt, use it.

Try to avoid overpacking. While the exact weight limitation varies by child, a good rule of thumb is to limit the weight of your child's backpack to no more than 15% of his or her weight. Remember to pack the heaviest, flattest items in back (i.e. the area that touches your child's back).

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Consider purchasing two sets of textbooks for your child, keeping one at home and leaving one at school. Since your child then has a textbook at either location, he doesn't need to carry them back and forth. If this isn't possible, encourage your child to use his locker between classes, carrying only the textbooks he needs for that class. (If the school's administration has removed lockers, let them know your concerns about ergonomics and safety).

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