With the start of the school year upon us, families are picking out new backpacks and stocking them with school supplies. But as helpful as backpacks can be, wearing them incorrectly can lead to health issues such as the development of poor posture, as well as severe pain in the back, neck and shoulders.

“If you’ve noticed your child struggling with a backpack, bending forward while carrying it or complaining of tingling or numbness, those are all warning signs to beware of,” said Robert Huang, a pediatric orthopedic surgeon for the Sacred Heart Medical Group in Destin.

Huang recommends these tips to help pick the right backpack for your child:

1. Start with a lightweight material. An empty backpack should not weigh much.

2. Find just the right size. A big bag may seem efficient, but having more space increases the odds your child will carry unneeded items.

3. Choose bags with two shoulder straps, and wear the backpack with both straps at all times. Two straps help distribute weight evenly, keeping your child balanced, avoiding falls and minimizing strain to the neck, shoulder and back muscles. Shoulder straps should be wide and padded to give your child needed support. Narrow straps can dig into the shoulders and restrict circulation.

4. Look for a padded back to provide additional support and protect against sharp edges on objects inside the backpack.

5. Make sure the bag has a waist strap, which holds the bag closer to the child’s back, helping maintain balance and distribute a heavy load more evenly.

6. Compartments on backpacks help distribute the weight of the items inside. The heaviest items should be packed low, closest to the center of the bag.

Once you’ve picked a backpack, remember to pack light. A backpack should weigh no more than 10 to 15 percent of your child’s weight. Anything more will force the child to slouch in order to keep balanced. Only pack items that are necessary. While at school, stop often at a locker rather than carrying all the books needed for the day. Carry heavier items in your arms, if possible.

Do not bend over at the waist when wearing or lifting a heavy backpack. Bend using both knees, when you bend down.

Backpacks with wheels may help in some situations but present a challenge to carry upstairs and should only be used in a limited basis, since they clutter hallways and increase the chance of tripping.

For questions or concerns, contact pediatric orthopedics at 850-416-1575 or sacredheartmedicalgroup.com.