WARNING: Carrying a Heavy Bag is Hurting You.

How many times has this happened to you? We get a bigger bag to carry more things so that we don’t have to carry multiple bags and then, by the end of the day, we’ve got red, beat up skin, sore muscles, and an aching neck from carrying that bag on our shoulder.

Inevitably, we seem to need more these days: multiple phones, wallet, camera, steel water bottle, laptop etc. Though this ‘handbag syndrome’ was coined after women, men who carry heavy laptop bags and briefcases are more affected than ever. 

What is Handbag Syndrome?

It is recommended that a full purse or handbag should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight, yet many of us are guilty of toting around bags weighing more than the recommended weight. For eg, woman weighing 140 lbs should be carrying a bag that weighs less than 14 lbs. By carrying such a heavy bag on one shoulder, you could be predisposing yourself to:

  1. Upper back and Neck pain
  2. Tension headaches
  3. Low back pain and sciatica
  4. Elbow tendinitis
  5. Rotator cuff injury in shoulder
  6. Numbness and tingling in the neck, arm and head

Carrying a bag on your Shoulder has a huge impact on Posture and Movement.

Large heavy bags depress one shoulder down taking the spine out of alignment. Furthermore, to stop the bag from sliding off, we hike up our shoulder, distorting our posture, overusing and fatiguing the muscles in the area.

Most people tend to carry handbags on their dominant side, this causes the muscles in your dominant shoulder, particularly the trapezius muscle, to work harder. This asymmetric load also causes muscles in your spine to compensate for the weight, which can cause the opposite side of the spine to go into spasm. As a result of this overcompensation, everything below the shoulder will have to work extra hard causing pain in your lower back and sacrum.

Carrying a bag on one shoulder can also significantly interfere with the normal gait. When you put a handbag on one side of the body, it means the arm on that side can’t swing properly and the other arm has to swing more. An even gait is essential to keeping the body balanced.

Signs which will tell you that Your Purse is too heavy for you?

  1. Your bag gets worn out too easily
  2. You are adopting an unnatural way of walking
  3. You have started getting headaches
  4. You are experiencing numbness and tingling
  5. There is an indentation in your shoulder
  6. You struggle to pick up your bag
  7. You have a pulling sensation in your back
  8. Your body is tilted
  9. Your whole life is in your bag
  10. Your skin burns and turns red
  11. You are experiencing pain

Here are the tips to prevent shoulder bag syndrome

  1. Try to lighten your load.  Experts suggest that your bag should not exceed 10% of your body weight. 5% if you’re carrying it on one shoulder
  2. Alternate shoulders by switching the bag from side to side.This will prevent one side of your body from being overworked and also prevent destructive changes to your posture.
  3. Do not slump your shoulders when you are carrying your bag on your shoulder. It adds to the strain.
  4. Don’t let your bag cause you to lean to one side.
  5. Place heavy objects at the bottom of the bag. Placing these items lower reduces the need to curve the spine and change posture to compensate.
  6. Make sure that the weight is even to prevent posture changes and stress on the spine. Keep your ab muscles engaged, your shoulder blades down and back, and your weight balanced over your feet.
  7. Keep the weight close to the body. This will minimize the amount of stress and sway that is placed on the muscles of the spine. You can find backpacks that are ergonomically designed for specific body types.
  8. Avoid holding your bag in the crook of your arm; this can cause elbow problems like tendonitis. Always carry the load over your shoulder or back.
  9. If you are carrying a heavy backpack, use both straps. It reduces the amount of pressure and posture changes, and it also keeps the weight evenly distributed.
  10. Avoid long-straps that cause the purse to bump you at the hip, which can affect the way your hips swing when you walk. You want to be able to swing your hips and your shoulders freely.
  11. Try walking without a bag from time to time, letting both arms and hips swing freely to restore your natural gait.
  12. If you must carry a lot of item, try to get the travel size option.

How to Choose a Bag That’s Good For You

  1. Choose a handbag that is proportionate to your body size.
  2. Preferably, choose a lightweight bag to best minimize the weight you are carrying around.
  3. Don’t purchase a big bag. You’ll only be tempted to fill it.
  4. Your ergonomic shoulder bag should not interfere with your motion.
  5. Use a bag with thick, padded straps to help distribute the weight and pressure across your shoulder.
  6. Go for wider straps.
  7. If you can, try to carry smaller bags.
  8. Pick the bag that allows you to alternate carrying on your shoulder, around your wrists, or by using its handles.
  9. If you cannot seem to reduce the weight of your bag to about 6 lbs or less, consider a backpack or a rolling bag. A backpack is more of an ergonomic bag since it distributes the weight between your shoulders. A rolling bag is the best option because it reduces your shoulder strain completely.

Still Suffering from Pain?

Physiotherapy can help resolve these pain by:

  1. Analysing the structure of your body and posture and your change in posture has brought biomechanical changes in your neck, back and shoulders causing more pain.
  2.  Evaluate the muscle and joints issues
  3. Focus on restoring the joint motion, muscle strengthen, fixing your posture.
  4. Helps in relieving pain and discomfort and assisting you to achieve your goals.
  5. Educate you in respect to what to and what not to do.
  6. Provide home exercises which when performed regularly will assist you to prevent such kind of pain again.

It is very important to understand the faster to address and solve the issue the easier it is to be pain-free. Thus if the pain does not resolve on your own for 3 days it is recommended to visit a Physiotherapist.

Exercises which will help you to prevent Shoulder bag syndrome

  1. Chin Tuck
  2. Shoulder roll
  3. Forward clap
  4. Neck Side Bend
  5. Neck Rotation
  6. W-exercise
  7. Pectoral stretch

    Dr. Mansi Parikh,

    Co-Founder EndoRush App

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