Hello September: shorter days, cooler weather... and heavier handbags. We typically tote around makeup, iPads, wallets and keys, and now we begin to add extra layers. I have noticed a pattern of right-side body pain in my female clients, and I can’t help but feel that it has something to do with these enormous bags we carry around. I often cringe when I finish a session and watch a client put her bag back on; I can imagine the muscles, which I’ve just helped to release, re-contracting in response to the heavy weight. Indeed, studies show a correlation between bag weight and back pain.
So how do we haul our lives around the city without abusing our bodies? The question is especially relevant for women; not only do we have higher risk for spinal pain (Source: PubMed), but we are often called upon to fulfill caretaker roles that require, well, stuff. Having experienced this pain pattern myself, I did some extensive research and narrowed my findings down to a few simple tips:
1. Carry Less
Did you know that your handbag should weigh no more than 10% of your body weight? For a 145-pound person, that’s a 14.5-lb purse! So ask yourself, do you really need to bring your entire makeup pouch today? It's time for that much-needed purse cleanse you've been putting off.
2. Distribute Weight Evenly
Put heavier objects on the bottom of the bag, and try to distribute weight equally between right and left sides. Use a waist or chest strap when carrying a backpack if possible.
3. Take Breaks
Even a light bag can cause irritation in the trapezius muscles when worn long periods of time. Set it down when you can!
4. Avoid the Funnybone!
Don’t hold bags in the crook of your arm; this can lead to elbow injuries and tendinitis.
5. Consider A Better Bag
This will help to improve your posture and evenly distribute weight. Backpacks take weight away from your neck -- a part of the body especially prone to irritation and pain from carrying loads. You can carry about 5% more with a backpack; for a 145-pound person, that’s a 21-lb backpack. To take weight off of your body altogether consider a rolling bag.
6. Carry It Close
Adjust straps to minimize swing, or hold the bag close. This minimizes “postural sway” and stress on your spine.
7. Switch It Up
If you must carry a one-shouldered bag, switch from one side to the other at finite intervals (lately, I’ve been using two city blocks as my measure). Also, it’s better to use two small bags than one large one!
8. Strengthen Your Core
Studies have shown that a stronger core improves posture prevents the spine from twisting. Yoga, Pilates and other forms of exercise can help.
Of course, massage can be part of the solution too! It can help bring blood flow to overworked areas and aid with muscle recovery. I have a luggage scale and am happy to sit down with you and figure out how to reduce the weight of your bag. I am always happy to work with my clients to help them figure out strategies to avoid strain and injury in the course of their daily lives.
Sarah Friedman is a massage therapist practicing out of Brooklyn and Manhattan, New York. She is committed to supporting women in reconnecting with their bodies and eliminating pain.