Why Your Handbag Is Causing You Pain

There are a few new injuries making the rounds that gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "fashion emergency." The problem involves an often ignored body part (the upper back), and the culprit is all the rage—one of those fabulously trendy, stylishly oversize bags that wreak havoc on us.


Not that there's anything wrong with owning a big, gorgeous tote. The problem starts when you load it up—wallet, laptop, comfortable pair of shoes, iPad, lunch, water bottle, book or magazine, maybe both, along with a makeup kit and a few work files—and lug the thing everywhere.


Researchers have supported evidence stating that handbag related strains in females are on the rise and have been occurring to the increase in average weight carried.


According to a recent Australian study, the weight we carry around on our shoulders has increased by 38% to 2.5 kilograms along with an increase in the overall size of bags for Australian women.


What this does to our bodies is alter our cranio-vertebral angle, which in lay terms means our head-on-neck posture. Females show an overall increase in forward leaning of their head compared to males and this occurs within the first 5 minutes of carrying a bag and walking. So, add some high-heels and a take-away coffee and phone in the other hand and things aren’t looking too good for your spine and overall symmetry of posture.


‘Huge City Bag’ injuries are on the up and it can be hard to say which style and way to carry it in particular is better for you – since there are detrimental effects with each.


The arm bag: This is your ‘for show’ tote that hangs off the elbow, which can cause compression related symptoms to the superficial web of nerves and common tendon sites at your elbow joint, along with the constant tension of your contralateral postural muscles in your upper-back.


The shoulder bag: This is your cram-everything-in-for-the-day kind of bag. It can cause an increase in muscle fatigue and tonicity to your upper Trapezius and Scalene muscles both on the carrying side and the opposite in order to counteract the force. This can result in the progression of first rib elevation, neural compression, unnecessary shearing on your skin, tension headaches and that chronic ‘tight shoulder’ pain.


Tips to reduce the damage your hand-bag is causing:


1.    Reduce the weight. Simple and very effective to reducing the overall strain. Empty your handbag and have a look at all those items that accumulate to that 2-3kg you’re carrying around in there. The total weight of your hand-bag should be no more than 10% of your body-weight. Try and adopt the less is more approach


2.    Switch sides and bags often. This way you cannot get into a structural habit that will cause strain over time. It occurs in the first 5 minutes of carrying your hand-bag. Change it up through out the day to give your body some recovery time


3.    Break it up. Carry two smaller bags instead of one big and heavy bag. It is important to even out the load and ensure your posture remains as symmetrical as possible. Evenly distributed weight decreases lateral spinal sway when walking, ascending and descending stairs and chairs.


4.    Keep it close to the body. The further away your tote is from your torso, the heavier it is. Carrying that large bag nearly as big as you on your elbow may make you look Olsen twin-esque, but it isn’t functional in the slightest. It makes the overall weight of your bag heavier and loads up on the delicate neuromuscular structures in your elbow.  Ouch!


5.    Go with wider-straps, or even better two straps. Whether it is Coach or K-mart, evidence supports that hand-bag weight is more evenly distributed over your shoulder area with wider straps. This can help with reducing the sheering of your skin and local compression your shoulder endures throughout the day.