On many occasions, I lifted my patient’s purses off the floor, so she didn’t have to bend down after an alignment, only to nearly pull my own back out of alignment! It’s no wonder why many women experience back pain given the weight of their purses.  Women aren’t the only ones in jeopardy of developing back pain from carrying heavy loads! Our children and grandchildren are at risk due to the increased size and weight of their back packs. I remember caring my bookbag when I was a student at IUP, and on many occasions, I felt lower back, neck, and numbing and tingling into to arms and hands. The discomfort was caused by the heaviness of the bag and wrong weight distribution of the bag on my shoulders.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, 85-90% of all Americans will have at least one flare-up of back pain during their life.  In addition, 20% of Americans will experience chronic lower back pain, 14% will have chronic neck pain, and 10% will have sciatic pain.  It is worth noting that half of these people end up taking over the counter pain killers, and the go-to recommendation among medical doctors are opiate-based drugs, which are very addicting.  According to the CDC, 1,000 people are admitted to the emergency room each day for opiate abuse, and the death rate from abuse of these drugs is skyrocketing across the U.S.

Here are the top five reasons purses and other bags are causing you pain – and why you should lighten your load!

  1.  When we were kids, scoliosis was the only spinal ailment we were screened for. If you didn’t have scoliosis, your spine was considered to be just fine – in tip top shape. Now, we know the medical experts back in the day were dead wrong. The Spine Journal found that most 11-13-year-old children are carrying backpacks that are 20-30% of their body weight, which leads to disc compression/bulge, lumbar curvatures, and asymmetry throughout the spine.
  2. Researchers in Poland found that heavy backpacks worn in formative years alter the shape of kids’ spines, and a study from Science Dailyproved that heavy backpacks cause micro, and sometimes macro, damage to the soft tissues of the neck and shoulders. This damage leads to neck, mid-back, and shoulder pain, as well as headaches.  In some cases, the stress on the body damages the delicate nerves that go from the neck to the arms, causing tingling and numbness. When continued stress is put on nerves or soft tissue, damage can occur that inhibits movement of the arms and dexterity of the hands.
  3. Kids are not the only ones being harmed by bags, as many women carry heavy purses, and both men and women often carry backpacks and computer bags over one shoulder. This will aggravate any existing neck or back problems, as well as result in new imbalances of supporting muscles of the spine and shoulders.  This all adds up to changes in how we walk and eventually to hip, knee, or foot pain.
  4. Purses and computer bags can cause forward head posture and rounded shoulders. It is important to note that when carrying anything over your shoulder it can cause numbness, tingling, and circulation loss (Thoracic Outlet Syndrome).

It is imperative for our kids and us to take this problem seriously. If we don’t, we are setting everyone up for preventable, chronic pain sooner and later. Here are my recommendations for addressing addressing kids’ backpacks:

  1. Backpacks should weight no more than 10-15% of the child’s body weight (most weight 20-30%).
  2. Unload all unnecessary items from purses and backpacks. Often kids are adding nonessential items to their bags.
  3. Have a talk with principals and teachers about having to carry around heavy text books. See if text books can be kept at school or if the school has spares that could be kept at home, instead of carrying them back and forth.
  4. Make sure backpacks fit snuggly to the child’s body, and insist that they use both shoulder straps to properly distribute the weight of the bag.

Regarding adults and their bags, less is more when considering purse/bag size and weight. Use the following criteria when selecting and carrying your bags – it can save your spine!

  1. The closer your purse is to your body, the better. Swinging causes torque on shoulders and other muscles.
  2. The smaller your purse is, the better. It will weigh less, plus you won’t have room to fill it with unnecessary items.  You’ll be forced to select only the items you really need.
  3. Shorter and wider purse/bag straps are easier on the body than longer, thinner shoulder straps.
  4. Whenever possible, wear clothing with pockets so you have places to put some cash, cards, and phone in them, rather than having to cram everything into your handbag or backpack.
  5. If you must carry professional bag (e.g., you need to lug a laptop to and from your office), select a backpack rather than a shoulder or cross-body bag.  And just like for the kiddoes, use both shoulder straps to place less stress on your back and shoulders.
  6. Ladies, remember that you don’t have to carry your purse everywhere. For example, if you’re running into the store, maybe just grab your keys, phone, and wallet. Try to only carry your full purse when it’s necessary!

I hope you put these tips to use.  Trust me, your spine will thank you!