In some cases, back pain has a clear cause. Whiplash from a car accident, taking a hard fall, and other personal injury accidents can all lead to back pain — but not all back pain has such clear causes. Everyday concerns like poor posture can just as easily bring about acute and chronic back pain that sends you rushing to your local chiropractor. One of the most common back pain causes is one that a majority of us make use of everyday: purses, backpacks, satchels, and other bags. When carrying a bag of any kind causes you pain, here’s what you should know:
How Carrying A Bag Affects Pain
Carrying an oversized purse may be fashionable and help you feel prepared for any situation, but it may also be harming your back. The core issue is that most purses, backpacks, and bags affect our posture. This happens in a few very impactful ways:
- A bag affects your gait and posture.
- Uneven weight distribution also causes imbalances in muscle use.
- Combined, that causes tight, stiff muscles in your neck, shoulders, and back.
We’ve mentioned before how poor posture can lead to chronic back pain. In essence, carrying a bag exaggerates or exacerbates poor posture issues. The reason for this is because we rarely carry any kind of purse or handbag in a way that is balanced. The body is affected in a couple of big ways. First, a one-shoulder purse puts weight on one side of the body that isn’t balanced on the other side. This throws off your posture because the body naturally leans to help provide that balance. That causes strain to your muscles along your neck, back, and shoulders as one side has to work harder than the other to keep you upright and minimise the effects of carrying your bag. The trapezius — the triangular muscle that connects neck, shoulder, and the top of the back — is the most-affected muscle, and habitually carrying a bag on one side or the other can lead to a noticeable difference in size in the trapezius
But what about backpacks or bags that are evenly balanced on the left and right sides? They aren’t exempt from causing back pain. The other major effect that carrying a bag of any kind has on the body is that it affects your gait. This goes for backpacks and grocery sacks just as much as it applies to one-shoulder purses, briefcases, and even crossbody bags. Carrying any kind of bag affects the way your legs and arms swing, which inhibits the way your body needs to move to walk properly. This can also affect how balanced your body is, both when moving and when standing still, which can also lead to back and neck pain.
An uneven gait, poor posture, and an unbalanced load all do similar things to muscles — so you can understand why carrying a bag, which does all three, can cause ongoing pain issues. Broadly speaking, the imbalances of weight and movement cause muscle groups to work harder. The muscles in your neck, in particular, are more delicate and play a role in smaller movements like tilting or turning the head. When uneven weight and movement happen repeatedly, it causes the muscles to tighten, which affects range of motion and can compress nerve groups — which is why you feel pain from this happening.
What Can You Do About It?
We understand that asking everyone to simply stop carrying bags is never going to happen. But, there are a few steps you can take to minimize the effects and reduce your pain.
Start by reducing weight. You may be surprised by the weight of your everyday bag. Take out anything that is unnecessary. If there are things that you carry everyday because you need them at home and at work, consider investing in a second item so you can carry fewer things.
Choose a bag with more intention. With purses especially, it’s common to put fashion over practicality. You don’t need to forgo fashionable options, but pay attention to your choices. Opt for bags made of lightweight materials; fabric options are generally lighter than leather/pleather. Also consider that many fashion details like buckles, large zippers, and other details add unnecessary weight.
Pay attention to strap options. A wider strap is better than a skinny one because it helps to evenly distribute weight across a larger area. A longer strap that can be worn across your body is also a good way to distribute weight more evenly across the body. A bag with multiple strap options is great, since it gives you more opportunities to shake up how you carry it.
Also pay attention to how your bag sits when you hold it. It’s better to opt for a bag that doesn’t inhibit how you swing your arms and hips as you walk. Bags with adjustable straps are great, but if you don’t go that route, pay attention to where the bag sits on your body and be sure you can move your hips and shoulders freely when carrying it.
Change positions periodically. No matter how many carrying options, it can really help your back to change it up. Swap shoulders, go from shoulder to crossbody, and carry your bag by handles if you have that many options. At the very least, move your bag from one side of your body to the other often.
Don’t text and carry. This is one that many of us are guilty of. It might seem like a small thing, but the strain of carrying a bag unevenly and the action of looking down do anything on your phone makes your neck muscles work twice as hard — leading to pain sooner.
Skip high heels with heavy bags. Wearing high heels causes your pelvis to tilt forward and places more strain on your back. Add in a heavy back, and it’s a recipe for chronic back pain. If you wear heels, switch to a smaller bag to alleviate some of that strain.
Care for your back. One of the most beneficial things you can do whether you carry a heavy bag or not is to take the time to care for your back. This means doing things like exercising — even something as simple as going for walks without a bag to let your natural gait return — as well as stretching and building strength.
Giving your back the care it needs starts with a natural and comprehensive care plan. Visit your local chiropractor for an assessment to better understand what affects your bag is having on your back, shoulders, and neck. From there, a combination of chiropractic adjustments, massage therapy, acupuncture, and even physical therapy can help to relieve pain, loosen tight muscles, and build strength. Your chiropractor can also provide guidance on choosing a better bag and other ergonomic questions you might have.
Get the back pain relief you seek, naturally. After your consultation and assessment, our chiropractor will work with you to determine the best plan to treat your back pain and help you build strength. Connect with the chiropractic care team at Senara Health and Healing Center & Spa in Peoria to schedule your chiropractic assessment today.