Have you taken an inventory of what’s in your tote or handbag? On any given day, women carry a multitude of items – a wallet, checkbook, laptop or tablet, phone, makeup, hand sanitizer, wet wipes, baby care items, books, sunglasses, eye glasses, pens, water bottle, and the list goes on.
While it’s always great to be prepared – thanks, Boy Scouts of America – the utility of carrying around all of those items can be harming yours back, causing back pain. Ideally, your purse or bag and all of its items should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight. For a 150-pound woman, that’s 15 pounds. I recently asked one of the young ladies in my office to empty her heavy handbag and weigh its contents on a small food scale. Here’s what she had:
- Bottle of water
- Snacks (an apple and protein bar)
- Phone and phone charger
- Hand sanitizer
- Travel hair spray
- Day planner
- Laptop and charger
These items, plus the weight of her heavy handbag, was 11 pounds! This 120-lb. woman was nearly toting around the maximum recommended weight (12 pounds) for her size, and she admits there are other days when she’s lugging around many more items to and from her appointments.
Here’s what that extra weight is doing to your spine: an excessive load can cause your head and neck to jut forward, rather than staying aligned over your shoulders. This can lead to back pain, tension in your neck, and even headaches. For descriptive purposes, imaging your spine as a stack of blocks, like the game Jenga. Carrying a load on one side, whether over your shoulder or not, is similar to removing a block from one side of the column, causing it to become unbalanced, resulting in back pain. To accommodate that shifting stability, we’d place that block on the top of the opposite side. When you do this to your back – the vertebrae, muscles and ligaments – become unbalanced, shifting your posture, and resulting in tension that builds up over time.
Handbags with long straps can tug you to whichever side you’ve slung the bag over, which causes you to naturally compensate for the extra weight by hunching up your shoulder. This is even more problematic for women with large breasts – they’re already carrying extra weight, which is straining, causing back pain. The added weight of the shoulder bag contributes to more misalignment.
Fat, heavy handbags worn over the shoulder will force your arm to stick out, rather than rest comfortably at your side. Slouchy style bags can add additional trouble, as items tend to shift, further throwing off balance.
Here are a few suggestions to promote a healthy back. Avoid back pain without completely sacrificing style:
1. Consider the material your bag is made of. A lot of leather handbags are heavier than nylon, cotton, or canvas ones. And the decorative hardware on many purses add to their weight, even empty.
2. Avoid long-strapped shoulder bags, and opt for short handles that aren’t too flimsy or narrow. There are always exceptions – a delicate purse with a long strap for the occasional formal occasion is OK.
3. Carry your short-strapped purse over your shoulder, ensure that it falls as close to your center of gravity as possible – around the waist, on average, though petite women should aim for a slightly higher resting point. You can also carry your short-strapped purse in the crook of your elbow (at the waist), or in your hand.
4. Chose a purse that has a definite shape, firm base and inner compartments that hold contents stable. Too much shifting around can put you out of balance. Bags with outside pockets make finding frequently needed items less of a hassle.
5. De-clutter your purse daily.
6. If you carry a computer or a lot of files and paperwork daily, use a backpack, carried low with your shoulder blades pulled back and down, or a rolling bag – they are not just for airports anymore!
7. Choose a fanny packs. They are anatomically friendly, because they rest on the lower lumbar vertebrae, which can bear more weight than the neck and upper back. More companies are developing fanny packs that are more fashion-forward, if you’re concerned about sacrificing style.