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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Corbin D.C

How heavy is your bag? What?!! You must be mad!

Updated: Dec 31, 2020

Welcome back to Corbin’s Chiro Blog

Today’s topic is about bag carrying, purses or rucksacks, either one could be setting you up for an unfortunate episode of back pain. In America according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there are over 8,000 emergency room visits involving backpack-related injuries. ( We do so many things during the day, things we do not even take a blind bit of notice to, how we lift things, put them down and the loads we put on our body are often an afterthought. But I’m here to educate! To show you why carrying something on one shoulder could be a cause you the pain you are feeling and the best steps to take to avoid those annoying aches and pains in the back, shoulder and even the neck.

Bag carrying and pain
How heavy is your bag? What?!! You must be mad!

When we throw a heavy bag on the shoulder we are affecting our gait, gait is the posh term for how we walk through space and time, gait is a hugely studied topic in itself which we won’t go into too much detail here today. When we walk we ideally need to be in balance, one step to the next with the opposite arm swinging in tandem. When we have a heavy bag on the shoulder this gait sequence is interrupted. The arm with the bag on will stop a full arm swing motion and also causes us to slightly bend to the bag side while the other arm has to work harder to keep everything in motion. This also causes a slight hobbling gait. Another problem is people tend to put a bag on their dominant side, most people will already be slightly stronger on their dominant side as it is used more, when a heavy bag is over the shoulder your muscles can become even bigger by trying to overcome the forces of gravity and the forces of the heavy bag. So with this alone you can imagine the problems after years of repetitive strain on the dominant side. A large proportion of musculoskeletal pain is due to muscle imbalance.

Now we have hit the surface we can go a little deeper, let’s say your dominant side is your right hand side and that’s where your bag is, then you will tend to lean slightly to that side because you have this added weight, the brain is very cleaver and realises this so decides to compensate using the opposite side’s back muscles. This creates further muscle imbalances as these back muscle get bigger because they are working out harder. The heavier the load the harder the muscles, joints of the spine and pelvis have to work! All of these muscles can start to become unhappy, overworked, tired and can cause cramps and stiffness which many people can understand that it can all get a bit too much by the end of the day, all because of one simple heavy bag!

Many of the shoulder muscles actually insert into the bones of the neck causing stiffness there too, when a bag is too heavy often the head and neck will go into what we call forward head carriage you know like an ET neck. This puts more strain on the neck musculature which can induce tension headaches due to other muscle in the back of the neck again over compensating. Often these posh hand bags can like Prada or Gucconi or whatever they are, can be the worst because of their thin straps. The thinner the straps the more they will dig into the trapezius muscle, as it digs into this muscle people tend to tense even more as it reduces that digging in effect but also causes the muscle to work even harder. It’s crazy to think something so small and useful can cause such big problems over time. It’s often a fashion statement to have a nice fancy current bag, or the gym goer who has packed enough for a small holiday, or the old lady who has £200 worth of coins built up in her purse, or students who have 15kg of books to carry to school or university, the accountant who has a mini filing cabinet in their shoulder bag, a builder who for 10 years has carried everything on the same shoulder weighing up to 20kg everyday (that was me!),... I think you get it now! It causes pain, dysfunction, tightness, stiffness, headaches and unhappiness and even arthritis in some cases.

So you can carry on creating these problems or you can look after your gait, joints, muscles, posture and pain levels by taking the following steps:

  • Less weight! Have a think of what you really need to carry, often things get chucked in the bag and then forgotten about till a new bag is on the horizon, it’s an accumulation of items that you might not even need adding needless weight to the bag and yourself.

  • Thicker straps: Try and use a bag with thicker straps, they cause less pain and support the shoulder better by distributing the weight evenly, also if possible have a longer strap that can be placed over the opposite of the dominant shoulder to distribute the weight more evenly

  • Change shoulders: Periodically swap side, this will work out your muscles more symmetrically, it might feel strange to begin with but it will get easier over time as will the pain!

  • Posture: Think about keeping your shoulder back and your neck upright with the eyes looking straight ahead, keeping in good form creates more stability and will reduce some of the repetitive strain effects on your body.

  • Back pack: Why have one strap when you can have two! Having two straps distributes the weight evenly and helps support the shoulders and reduces twice as much stain, be sure that the back pack is not too low as this puts more strain on the lower back.

  • Stretch: Great so it’s the end of a long day, go ahead and collapse like a potato on the sofa it feel lovely right? Sure it does but your body won’t thank you tomorrow, all that strain builds up, you need to stretch off, why not take a yoga class or Pilates or even go crazy with yogalates, it will take out the tension in your muscles, ease the joints and make you feel so much better you will want it to be part of your life.

  • Get a small purse: Ask yourself if you are in pain do you need a huge bag all day? Can you get away with a small purse? If so than that gives you a great opportunity avoid all of the above and live a pain free life.

So maybe you will think twice about your bag safety and how something so simple can lead to a world of pain and misery! It sure does sound dramatic but you would be surprised how many patients myself alone has come across with this problem. I had to walk two miles to school in the olden days with a heavy weight on my back and had huge amounts of pain, it even lead me to be off school for a few days, although I did not mind missing a few days of school it was not worth the pain I was feeling so I started to cycle instead which I never had the same problems again. So if you can take anything away from kindly reading this blog it is to be aware of what could happen down the line, maybe you are already in pain and this sounds like the cause, you know where to go. Even after a few treatments patients and guest have found a huge benefit from chiropractic adjustments and soft tissue manipulation along with the right exercises to keep you going at your best.

I salute you and your handbag!

Until next time this is Corbin’s Chiro Blog

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