Is Your Bag Hurting Your Back?

School books, electronic devices, busy schedules requiring you to have your “life” in your bag… all of these things contribute to the weight of the bags we carry. The more we pack in there, the heavier the bag! Whether you’re a kid carrying a backpack, a businessman carrying a brief case, or a mom carrying a purse it’s important to be mindful of the weight that is being carried and how it’s affecting your body.

Since school is starting, let’s focus on backpacks first. The American Chiropractic Association recommends that backpacks weigh no more than 5-10% of a child’s body weight. They also recommend that backpack shoulder straps are snug and evenly distributed over both shoulders. The bottom of the backpack should sit no more than 4 inches below the waist line to ensure the child doesn’t have to lean forward to counterbalance the weight.Spreading the weight throughout the backpack is also helpful to provide balance among the affected muscles used for core stability. Lastly, it may not be cool, but carrying a backpack on one shoulder is not good for posture.

Now that we consider those options for our children… we need to think about ourselves. How many times have you tried carrying all the groceries into the house in one trip? How many times does a mom carry not only a a ridiculously sized diaper bag, but also a car seat carrying an infant into the store? And for the average person, handbags and purses are the biggest offenders. Whether tossed over one shoulder or carried in one hand these heavy items cause an imbalance in the spine and other joints.

Let’s take a look at how this affects the body…

  1. One shoulder is raised to counter the weight of the bag resulting in tightness in the neck and shoulder muscles.
  2. The middle of the back (thoracic spine) twists and shifts to the side contributing to an imbalance of right to left.
  3. The low back and pelvis often shift opposite of the shoulders to maintain balance over the legs, causing strain and tension throughout the low back and gluteal muscles.
  4. A pressure imbalance develops in the hips and knees that contribute to general joint discomfort.

When this posture is repeated multiple times a day, the body begins adapting to it and muscle and skeletal complaints begin developing. So what can you do about it?

  1. Choose bags that can be worn across the body, like messenger bags.
  2. Do a “bag purge” once a month to rid your bag of unnecessary or duplicate items.
  3. Use more than one bag depending on need and function.
  4. Switch arms to balance the weight distribution from side to side.
  5. Choose a bag with compartments to distribute the weight evenly.
  6. Choose a bag with wide, adjustable straps.
  7. Choose travel-size options for items like lotions, hand sanitizer, or make-up.