As summer comes to an end, most kids begin dreading the ever-closer school year. But, there is one saving grace that can keep their spirits up for the school session ahead—the excitement of picking out a new backpack. Will it have their favorite princess or superhero plastered across the front? How many pockets will it have? Will it have some hooded contraption or a handle and wheels? But often times, kids and adults miss the most important question when choosing a backpack: Will the backpack reduce my risk of back pain and spine injury? Read on for tips on how to choose the right pack, use it properly and recognize warning signs to save your student’s back.

Pick the Right Pack

Although it is easy to get caught up in the looks of a backpack, try to keep your primary focus on the build and quality of the pack. If you are looking for a traditional backpack, spend extra time inspecting the straps. Traditional straps burrow into one’s neck and shoulders when carrying more weight, which can pinch the trapezius muscle and cause pain. Wide, padded straps will prevent the pinching of this muscle and keep the weight in the pack more evenly distributed. Additionally, waist straps can take a lot of weight off the upper body and distribute it down the back. Purchase packs with both straps and encourage your kids to properly utilize both.

If your school district allows them, rolling backpacks are the best way to keep weight off your child’s back. These packs can be carried on the back when the load is light or pulled like a suitcase when moving more weight. Before buying this style of pack, be sure to check with your school administration that rolling backpacks are allowed at your kid’s school.

Use it Correctly

Once you have found the perfect backpack, it is important to use it properly. Both straps should be worn at all times; the pack should never be slung across the back with only one strap. This ensures the weight does not all fall on one side of the body, which can lead to poor posture and localized pain. Both straps should also be tightened to fit as closely to your child’s frame as possible while still being comfortable. By removing the tension in the straps, the contents of the bag are less likely to move as you move, which makes the load easier to balance.

The way a backpack is organized can also have a great effect on how heavy the bag feels. Keep heavier items in the back of the bag, closer to your back, to avoid joint strain from carrying weight far away from your body. Encourage your child to switch out books in his or her locker throughout the day to avoid lugging unnecessary weight all day. If your child seems to always bring home the same 3 heavy books, consider purchasing or renting copies of the book to keep at home. Used books can be rented on Amazon for a relatively low price and save your kid from years of back pain down the road.

Recognize Health Risks

If your child complains of back pain at any point in the school year, take his or her pains seriously. Most of the time, aches are due to a heavy or inefficient backpack, but they could be signs of more serious disorders. Ask your doctor to inspect your child’s spine for changes and curvatures at every check up if he or she is not doing so already.

Buying a quality backpack may cost a few more dollars, but it is well worth the extra money. Strong backpacks protect your child’s spine from long-term damage, prevent short-term aches or pains and will usually last longer than flimsier backpacks. With the right backpack, your child will be standing strong all the way from August to May!