Everything but the kitchen Sink! dr Melanie shares some helpful tips to help you avoid unnecessary pain caused by our beloved bags.
There’s a new injury in town that gives a whole new meaning to the term “fashion emergency” and the culprit is the latest craze - that fabulous, oversized handbag that you carry around on your shoulder.
Now, it’s not the bag itself that causes the nagging neck, shoulder, or back pain that a lot of women experience, but it’s what you put inside your bag that’s the problem. Diaries, laptop, lunch, water bottle, makeup cases, reading books or magazines, gym gear, perfumes. You name it, you’ve probably got it in your bag. It’s the “you never know what you’ll need” mentality that comes with a price. Large bags manage large loads and though they are seemingly perfect for the modern woman, who never knows what the day may call for, carrying this 5-8kg purse around for long enough takes a toll on our bodies. The weight of the bag against muscles, nerves, and ligaments, in combination with the resultant compensating shift in posture to ensure you can carry the load, can lead to a variety of complications including, shoulder pain, back or neck aches and pain, pins and needles down the arm, and headaches, to name a few. At first, you may start to notice the occasional dull, nagging ache in your neck, across the top of your shoulders, and then down your arm. This seemingly innocuous pain that you initially feel, starts to worsen and worsen until the day that you push yourself that little bit too far and then suddenly you’re feeling miserable and suffering severe pain in your neck, back, or arm.
So why is it that our beloved totes and handbags are wreaking havoc on our bodies and what can we do to avoid all of the discomfort? Firstly, every time you throw that big bag over your shoulder, you shrug your shoulder and the upper back and shoulder muscles activate to stabilize the shoulder blade and shoulder joint. Over time, these muscles become overworked and fatigued until you push them just that little bit too far in Pilates class sending you into suffering. Secondly, the heavier the bag becomes, the more you struggle to counterbalance the weight, the more sideways tilt you adopt with your torso, resulting in poor posture and eventually low back aches. Thirdly, the heavy down pull of your bag on your shoulder pulls at the web of nerves in your neck which can give you symptoms such as aching or pins and needles down your arm. Sooner or later, the constant uneven load the shoulder and neck muscles have to bear, can trigger symptoms in the head, adding headaches to the list of woes.
Leaving home with only the bare essentials isn’t really an option for the busy lady with the multi-tasking life - which, let’s face it, that’s most of us. So here are some ways in which we can decrease the stress and burden that these fabulous totes place on our body.
1. Spring clean your handbag on the regular
Put your handbag on a diet. Aim to keep your handbag under 5kg. The total weight of your bag should never be more than 10% of your body weight. Organize your items into zipper bags so you can easily filter through your things and put them in and out of your bag on an as-need basis easily. For example, one pouch for makeup, one pouch for pens, one pouch for pads/tampons, one pouch for change etc.
2. Switch it up
This can be done in two ways. One, switch up your bag. If you know you have a small outing, as in a trip to the grocery store, or to a cafe with your girlfriends, then take a small handbag or clutch, instead of lugging your heavy tote. Secondly, switch up the side you carry your bag on. Typically, women tend to favour their handbag to their dominant shoulder and rarely carry it on the opposite side. This constant overload on the one shoulder accumulates stress and increases the chance of injury. Share the load between both sides of the body.
3. Straps are out; handles are in
Long straps hung over one shoulder is a no-no. Use a bag that has alternative strap/handle options. A handbag with handles is great as this can be carried in your hands and easy to switch between left and right sides. A handbag with a long enough side strap allowing the ability for the strap to cross-over your body is also better at evenly distributing the weight as opposed to putting all of the load on one side of the body.
Purchase yourself a smaller bag. This will limit you from over stocking your bag and will be much better for your body.
Make sure your strength workouts don’t just include core, glutes, and legs, but incorporate exercises that target shoulder stabilizers and upper back muscles to promote good posture and shoulder strength and stability.
6. Be a planner
Spend a few minutes in the evening packing your bag for the day ahead. Know exactly what’s on your next day’s schedule so you don’t carry unnecessary items with you that will weigh you down. Divide your bag into two sections. Keep your everyday items (wallet, keys, phone) on one side, and put your temporary items (letters to mail, work-items etc) in the other section. Clean these temporary items out at the end of the night so you’re never carrying around more then you have to.
Dr Melanie Xabregas is an experienced and passionate chiropractor with a special interest in helping children experience optimal performance and longeviety in dance and gymnastics. She brings a gentle, caring and friendly approach to her examination and treatment. Learn more about Dr Melanie
Available for consultations Tuesday & Friday between 2pm - 6pm