Did you know that in 2007 The American Chiropractic Association reported that purse-related injuries surged 30%? The average woman’s handbag weighs 5.2 pounds these days and the UK’s Daily Mail reports that the average “Man Bag” weighs almost 13 pounds! That’s like hauling around 5 to12 one-pound bags of sugar. The results are not so sweet.
Just this morning I observed a Fashion-savvy woman furiously text messaging on the subway. From her texting arm hung a 10-12 pound bag and from the opposite shoulder hung another bag twice as heavy. Her head hung forward about 6 inches, her cervical spine in wickedly deep flexion while her fingers ravenously danced over her Blackberry keyboard.
It’s hard to say which is worse, carrying a huge bag on the elbow joint or carrying on the shoulder since both purse-carries have detrimental effects:
The Arm Bag Carry
The Huge Handbag that hangs off the elbow joint can damage the superficial radial nerves that stretch from the elbow to the hand on the anterior side of the forearm. As we daintily bear the weight on our forearm, our digital flexors and pronator teres become tenderized. Alas, it’s not uncommon for those who’ve never played tennis to suddenly acquire a Tennis Elbow diagnosis as the olecranon bursa and/or the tendon attachments become inflamed.
The Shoulder Bag Carry
The Shoulder Bag Carry is not much improvement: Strapping a giant bag on one shoulder can aggravate tender rotator cuff muscles and degrade the highly susceptible shoulder joint capsule, resulting in pain. Furthermore, this big bag hanging off one side of your body may result in acquired functional spinal curvature as your muscles and spine are forced to counterbalance the weight, creating repetitive stress on the axial skeleton. Again, the result is pain, usually in the back.
So, what’s the fix? Read my post on Friday to find out!
Discover solutions for shoulder pain.
Watch our Quickfix video for upper back pain.
Dinneen, this post gives me so much gratitude for the backpack I recently purchased to replace my beautiful, yet pain and strain inducing, leather handbag. I have heard more than once a case of scoliosis being caused by bearing the weight of an overstuffed purse on the same side of the body every single day. I want absolutely none of that! Having weight evenly distributed across the upper back and shoulders seems much wiser. Also, text neck is way too real of a thing. As if the strain from the too heavy handbag wasn’t enough, we have to crane our necks so far into flexion that every chiropractor must cringe when riding the subway people watching. Hence, giving new meaning and benefit to abiding by the phrase: “keep your chin up!”
Hi Dinneen, I completely agree. I think whats even worse are the laptop bags that weigh loads as well. I’m a handbag addict but these days they sit in my wardrobe and I just use a backpack and leave my laptop in the office whenever I can. Lorraine
Fascia first!!! My mother stopped carrying a purse for the reasons you listed. I use a small cross body purse that contain a phone (that has a holder that holds my credit cards), keys, lip balm, a small foldable travel brush, and my glass case. I keep myself and my life very low maintenance!
The whole carry the purse on the elbow thing blows my mind every time I see that. First, you are just begging to get your purse snatched. Second, you look silly, Third, now you’ve messed up your elbow. It’s almost like some women will do anything for fashion. Even to their own demise.
Wow! I didn’t realize the statistics were so high! But I see women everyday all dressed up with at least 2 bags on them. I’m not fond of a backpack either but when I carry it, my body thanks me by the end of the day. I try not too overload it either. Over the years I have learned to pack the bare minimum. Because if I bring it, I carry it. You made some very simple observations that we overlook everyday. So thank you!
All of these start by addressing/ realising…
most of them think thats a norm for everybody and if we mention it to them, they will not accept/ agree because thats what they have been doing the whole time, the whole life or worse, they think their body is totally fine with it. They don’t like being corrected and most of them will only start facing their issues or their body at their late 40s because their body can take it no more. These kind of information should spread around so people notice till its too late!
Thanks for the article Dinneen! I can’t agree more on how carrying a heavy handbag everyday could destroy our forearms, shoulders and even our neck! my mom used to have shoulder and neck pain, after some therapy balls release and giving up using those super heavy handbags, her shoulders and neck are feeling a lot better now. Changing up your habits and what you do in every day life is definitely the key to self-care and healing 🙂
Yes thanks for this! As a yoga instructor I used to carry a heavy gym bag with me from one studio to the next with changes of clothes, toiletries, food etc and my chiro suggested ditching the “body” bag i was dragging around for a back pack to help alleviate the shoulder issues that had crept up on me. Was the best thing I did for my shoulder.
So true for pretty much anyone carrying anything! I have 3 kids and while I have escaped shoulder and elbow injuries I am definitely “shorter” down my whole left side, creating a different range of motion from my shoulder, through my spine and my hip from constantly bracing on one side. I’m finally trying to switch things up with the last little one but I definitely feel the effects of not introducing variability into my carrying patterns. It’s definitely a hard pattern to break, if lightening the load is not possible. I’m always loaded down with enough stuff to get 3 littles and myself through the day when we go out but now I’m more aware of HOW I’m loading my body.
VERY GOOD ARTICLE SHEDDING LIGHT ON HOW CARELESSLY WOMEN OR MEN HAVE HELD ON TO THEIR BAGS. I would nowadays just carry bags with hands and arms by my sides without shrugging shoulders or bending elbows or sometimes I would do a overhead lift like a military press for a short period of time.
while we are living in that consuming and convicting society, it gets much harder to say “no” to anything what is fashion. So thank you for sharing. The more peoples can open there eyes, the more healthier we will get. Tatjana
My friend once said that she hates backpacks for everyday use because they make her look like a tourist. Well, I guess I am a tourist in my neighbourhood most of the time! But at least an aligned one. Even across-the-body handbags make my back ache, and they don’t need to be heavy at all. Fashion has never been friendly to women’s bodies and handbags are no exception. A heavy handbag coupled with pointy stilletoes — that’s the kind of stuff that keeps the likes of us in business! 😀
GREAT article! I love when I notice little habitual movements that are having a detrimental affect on me — well, I hate when I notice it, but I love being mindful so I can make changes. I’m an avid reader and I always have at least four books on me at a time, so this one hit home. I have been consciously switching shoulders when I carry my bag so the burden isn’t always in the same place, but I think it’s time to think about this habit more in depth to come up with a better method. I’m excited to see what whacky solution I come up with!
Bostonians are just as bad with wearing heavy bags on one shoulder resulting in shoulder next strain and stiffness. I have recently started to switch shoulders and after reading your blog will be making sure I switch all the time. I have also thought of roll bags to use to avoid the heavy lap top hold on my shoulders. I def want to avoid creating a dangerous spinal curve that will affect my muscles. Also engaging my tubalor core while I walk will help me to avoid that spine flexion that will make me look like a witch!! Thanks!!
Fashionating! I absolutely walk around with my heavy yoga carry-all slung over my delicate forearm muscles. I hadn’t even considered that they were being tenderized. It’s one of my remaining fashion “bad habits.” This article reminds me of the compressive effects of wearing “Spanx” and other slimmers on the fascia, muscles, and contents of the abdomen. We’re squishing a lot of important tubes for the sake of looking how society wants us to look. I ditched those a while ago in favor of creating my own tubular core. Thanks for the reminder. This is the next habit to work on. I’ll have to figure out a way to carry things in my arms (versus on my arms) to save my muscles and tone my core.
Hi Dineen! What a relevant subject to talk about! Women living in NYC who rely on subway or public transit to commute deal with this issue every day! I think I’m not symmetrical because of this also, even though I don’t use a handbag. I do have a tendency to favor one shoulder over my other, when carrying my backpack. Can’t wait to read about your blog on the solutions!
I’ll take fascia over fashion any day! I do not want to suffer the damages of carrying a heavy bag just to be fashionable! This article made me realize why I suffer from tennis elbow in the winter when I haul firewood on a regular basis. I cradle heavy loads of wood on the anterior side of my forearm. I investigate some therapy ball work and yoga tune-up moves for this. I will also incorporate preventative measures when hauling wood so I can prevent this pain. Lighter loads, perhaps?
Love the title of this post! Also appreciated Annaliese Godderz’s comment of lifelong “fashionista” to “fascianista!” I can definitely relate, having worked in the fashion industry for the past 15 years. I am so fascinated by fascia and definitely loving my new found, “fascianista” style!
Oh man I am the WORST with this. As a new “fascianista” and a lifelong “fashionista” the struggle is way too real with this one. After carrying a heavy load all last week I have started to take the time to look at my teaching schedule the night before and see where I can break up my day to come home. I leave my laptop and lunch at home when I can, as well as my change of clothes. It takes time out of my day to do this, but that’s where a *light* and fun novel comes in handy. In so doing, I can work on lengthening my spine and finding the natural S-curve whether I’m standing or sitting on the subway. Days when I do need to lug everything around I try to be conscious of switching the arms with which I pick up my heavy bag. Thanks for this post!
I tried to load all my books for school on my iPad but e-books are not quite the same. I have ditched my bag and bought a roller for getting around the city – so much easier!
my bff is definitely fashion over fascia but i think she’s noticing now how her overall posture is needing some much needed love. Now with a newborn i will definitely get on her to be more mindful and use the stroller as a holder – for starters ; )
I’ll take fascia over fashion any day of the week. I gave up on big bags years ago and try to carry everthing in pockets or use a small backpack. I dont know how people can hold a heavy bag on thier forearm and text at the same time, Ouch!
Its amazing how much we ignore for the sake of the “look”. I love the idea of streamlining what I carry with me so I can treat my body right. Recently, I was in NY at a YogaTuneUp training with many bags ass I was couch surfing while in town. Through the rolling over the weekend, I came home virtually pain free despite carrying my gear around. The increased proprioception in the classroom helped once I walked out! Thank you for the post, Dinneen!
I love this topic! Women included me carrying a heavy bag on shoulder or elbow same side a lot.
However we need to pay attention for our habits and change our habits.Fascia is more important than fashion!
Let’s take care of our body rolling on the Yoga Tune Up therapy balls! The elbows and lists pain cause back and neck issues and we forgot to take care of them.
Thank you for sharing wonderful topics!
Love this! I’ll definitely be sharing this with my friends, as I am also guilty of it.
Imbalances from carrying too much forces the muscles and bones to compensate. Habitual habits can become imbedded into our tissues. Yoga, yoga therapy and changing our holding and lifestyle patterns are needed for wellness. It is not until we unlearn and alter our habits that we can make postive, painfree changes.
Aparigraha-hording; can be the use of overstuffed purses, backpacks etc. Letting go of that which does not serve us is litteraly weight off our shoulders.
Love this post. As a serious fashion-lover I very often sacrifice comfort for style – shoes, bags, etc. My purse is always super heavy but I am so used to it that it has become normal. Sometimes your need an article like this to remind you just how much harm you can do to your body without even thinking about it. Can’t wait to read your next post to see how to work on correcting this!
Thankfully I’m not a purse person & prefer to carry a small clutch. However on the days I teach or outings when I need to take clothes, shoes, etc I fall into the big bag trap. Time to invest in a backpack but I know that only comes with a whole other set of issues.
As a personal trainer, I have dealt with so many different versions of external “posture destroyers”! Everything from purses to backpacks to carrying children on your hip. It is the first thing I address with a new or old client that speaks of hip, back or shoulder pain. My first thing I do with a client that is more worried about fashion than their posture is to take that very expensive purse and put it on the scale in the gym. They are usually shocked when they realize that their purse weighs 10 to 15 pounds!!! Then I hand them a 15lb dumbbell and have them carry that around for an entire session with a flexed elbow and elevated shoulder. They start to complain within minutes. It really makes my point very quickly.
Very relatable and informative. Love your writing style too! =)
Wow Dinneen, I have to say that I’m guilty of this!
Just this week when traveling to NYC I travelled with my carry on, thinking I would be fine without wheels!
Boy was I wrong, after arriving, I realized that I had forgotten my YTU balls at home, and I missed them terribly…. I don’t go anywhere without them!
My shoulders and neck were killing me due to the stress of many extra pounds on them!
I was ready to roll, and break down the Tissue in my shoulders that I had injured during travel.
Thank goodness I retrieved some balls, and was able to roll out, my Trapezius, and sternocleidomastoid, both were very angry and abused!
With this kind of information, and education, we can make ourselves a healthier society, a more functional one,not just fashionable!
I am super guilty of being the 100 pound shoulder bag carrier and I always feel its affects. Is the backpack evenly distributed the solution? I’m going to read your next post to find out!
This is a great reminder to me as I try to both determine why I havemy shoulder pain and how to treat it. No more trying to carry in all my groceries from the car in one trip by hanging bags off my arms!
Dineen – I completely agree with you. I was noticing when I was waiting for my plane all of the people walking around with bags hanging off one side of their body – with resulting dangerous spinal curvature – and all I could think of was how much pain they were causing their muscles – and how they could have been avoided!
My co-worker had tension in her neck. I ask her a few questions regarding where the pain was and what activities she does daily. Turns out, high heels in conjunction with a handbag twice her size was the cause. She is still choosing fashion over health. I guess some people do enjoy the Advil diet
Wow! I was just thinking the other day about how I’m sometimes a litte embarrassed about wearing a napsac. But now, I’m convinced that this purse fashion will fade as it is not sound. Thank you for the descriptions of exactly why the purse can damage our bodies when carried at the elbow or at the shoulder. I will spread the word about these sensitivities in our precious arms and shoulders. I look forward to reading the fix. Peace.
Thank you so much. This was great and I’m so aware of this and changing my habits and lightening my load. I also tend to carry huge baskets full of as much as they hold at the grocery store on already unstable shoulders. I’m most certainly going to take heed and change bad habits and begin better ones!
Awesome post! I rarely use a purse like you describe for the reasons you describe – but this is such a well-written post to share to the masses. Super relevant such an educational contribution. I will definitely pass this along and it’s complimentary installment.
Hey, Dineen. What a great topic for the blog. A friend of mine recently went to her doctor for a shoulder injury and was told it was from her giant purse! So yes, awareness of this fashion felony is very important for women and men who burden their shoulders with heavy weight day after day. The stress can be just as damaging as a sports injury. I appreciate your attention to this and I look forward to the next installment. Thanks.
I have sadly experienced both of these situations but I have not found a great answer to fixing the issue other than doing this kind of work (Yoga Tune Up) to be able to roll out and strengthen that which we do wear and tear on! When we become aware we can make better choices and prepare ourselves more. I am certainly not one to lighten my load or sit out on the sidelines while life passes by, so bags beware, I am not aware of the result of my habits and ready to combat you (them) with my Yoga Tune Up know how!
Ha! I love this entry and I love your follow up answers to a few people who commented above. This is a DUDE issue also, . I see guys roll into the gym or the jiujitsu academy with a weighted down over the shoulder gym bag, cell phone pinned to the opposite ear, and then later overhear them complaining of odd back pain. Hmmmmm? You don’t have to have a heavy purse to be a victim of your bag.
I’ve realized that even a small bag carried on the shoulder can cause people (ME!) to hike up the shoulder to hold the strap. Although it seems like a small elevation of the shoulder, it is sufficient to result in imbalance in the back and neck and can lead to shoulder or neck strain and stiffnes. I only use small handbags now that I can wear like a messenger bag (Coach has nice ones!!!) across my body or use a knapsack. I double check to be sure I need what I carry…..not just carry everything out of habit. Laptops and other heavy items can usually be transported in a roller bag so that the weight is not a constant burden on one side of the body. Might not look so trendy with a roller bag, but in 5-10 years, a beautful, perfect alignment with no pain will certaily feel awesome and probably look awesome as well.
I try to be aware and have begun buying only small handbags in the past few years so that I cannot load too heavily- or my favorite black leather Clark bag that turns from small purse into small “knapsack” style purse. When traveling or walking home from the grocery store- I try to carry two bags equally weighted (in my hands if possible) and watch my alignment. And I’m sure you can do another entire post on men’s oversized wallets in their back pockets?:) Thank you for sharing this and the detail.
Unfortunately this article stops short of discussing the perils of heavy backpack carrying – of which I am guilty and which has messed up my spinal curves. Thats another post! Try this: Get a SMALL rolling bag bag and resist over-packing it. These bags can be picked up on the street here in NYC for as little as $15. But remember the subway stairs are looming, so even with wheels, try to keep your “stuff” under 15lbs. If you’re lugging around an eight or ten pound laptop it may be time to strategize transitioning to smaller, lighter technology! This is all a process. Only time will tell what works and what hurts.
Dineen, I read your post a few weeks back and immediately started bringing more awareness to how I’m holding any bag, handbag or backpack. My shoulder bones are particularly bony & sensitive, so I luckily get a lot of information in the form of “ow” when I am inundating them with too much weight. Yet, I still find it difficult to travel around the city with my laptop in tow without stressing them. Leaving the laptop, extra yoga clothes, books, and lunch at home is not always an option. Do you have any suggestions for how to manage traveling with heavy items while still being kind to your shoulders/ elbows/ structure?
I used to carry a huge backpack in middle school, high school and college which resulted in me having persistent upper back pain, mostly around my scapulae which i thought was related to my spine and my back, After taking the YTU, I realized that there are many muscles around like the trapezius, levaotr scapulae and thomboids which I can roll and untighten gradually. I felt immediate relief of pain. So wearing huge handbags can damage and tighten our muscles around the upper back a lot.
I love that this blog resonated with some of my city peeps! Men included, of course! Particularly hot-room yogis. And don’t get me started on dancers’ bag-carrying habits. I’ve recently forgone my favorite water bottle because it’s too heavy. Something’s got to give and I know we all prefer it’s not our spine/shoulder/hip/elbow! Way to be mindful, keep up the great work! Love love, Dinneen
So glad this mentioned the MAN BAG! It really opened my eyes and I definitely have to reconsider how I transport all of my things.
I am so glad to read that you included the “man bag” in your blog, since this issue is all too often labeled as an all-female problem. Even though I am not so much into the backpack look, I started to use the strap and wear my bag strapped across my chest over one shoulder, somewhat ensuring that the weight is divided equally.
I am looking forward to any suggestions in your follow up.
This article hits home big time!! I have to admit, being a New Yorker, professional Dancer, fitness instructor, and practicing yogi, I can’t get through my day without carrying a 10-15 pound bag. Between the shoes I need for rehearsals and classes, my yoga mat, changes of clothes, snacks and an insulated Hydro Flask water bottle (hydration hydration and environmentally friendly) which weights probably too much when empty, let alone full…I must be doomed.
That being said, I do my best to practice good posture when walking and standing on the subway, engaging my core and using leg only strength and core stabilization when going up and down stairs instead of pumping by body and using momentum from back/shoulder movement. I’m guilty of carrying one bag…only taking out a second if I pick up groceries on the way home. I get a sports Massage every other week…looking forward to using my yoga tune up balls and massage knowledge associated with them to help alleviate my plight of the heavy bag of the the healthy New Yorker.
Three years ago I injured my back and I found out because it was due to carrying too much stuff ( big bag) over the years:(. Ever since that, I started carrying a little stylish backpack ( limit what I carries ) and doing more yoga ( yoga became my daily companion). Yoga has been strengthening my back and my mind in many ways:)
I am looking forward to the next instalment! This issue seems so riddled with problems! Not just because sometimes the beauty is worth the pain (come on, the occasional night out of fun in stilettos can make your heart sing even if your muscles don’t) but on a daily basis any repetitive movement pattern, like carrying a bag, is going to be accompanied with moments of unconsciousness. And that’s where the dysfunction creeps in….. unconscious movement patterns. Is the problem holding the bag or is the problem holding a bag and paying more attention to the phone than they way you are holding the bag? Nice to be conscious every step of the way and minimise the dissipation of awareness that results from multi-tasking but reality is we do other things when we are carrying bags. Having tried a variety of permutations of bag styles and weights I ended up with a car and a shoulder bag the size of a trunk and can carry the kitchen sink. No shoulder pain there but now I sit more, walk less and pollute the environment. I await the winning scenario….thanks for this thread!