Is your bag causing you neck pains? Whether you’re at school, working in an office or just out and about, chances are you carry around a bag or laptop. Every day I see young people carrying a whole house on their backs. At almost every turn I also see women with overloaded rucksacks slung over one shoulder. How does all of that affect our backs and our posture? With the use of posture analysis software we can precisely determine the answer.
The simple solution would either be to put all our bags on wheels or stop carrying bags altogether. But neither of these is the perfect answer. “So what must we do then?” I hear you ask. The most sensible answer is to make sure we carry only what is necessary and to evenly distribute the load. Another suggestion would be to often change the side we carry our bags and, if you have a rucksack, to wear it correctly, using the straps.
So what exactly does carrying heavy bags do to our bodies? Carrying a heavy rucksack can put a lot of strain on our necks, backs and shoulders. Over time this causes fatigue of the muscles and leads to muscle imbalances and changes in our posture. To minimise the effects of a heavy rucksack:
• Wear both shoulder straps; don’t sling it over just one shoulder.
• Adjust the shoulder straps so it sits high on your back and the shoulder straps are comfortable on your shoulders.
• If the backpack has a waist strap or chest strap, use it. The waist strap helps to distribute the weight load to the hips, relieving the pressure on the shoulders. A chest strap helps keep the shoulder straps in place and reduces swaying of the pack.
But it’s not just heavy rucksacks that are a problem; carrying a handbag also has its consequences. Have you ever looked into the average woman’s handbag? It has everything in it to cover any eventuality. If you are one of those women who say, “Oh no! That’s not me. I avoid heavy bags,” you’re still not in the clear. How you carry your bag can also cause problems. So what is your style?
1. The two-handed clutch pose
Many ladies opt for the soft feminine look, holding their clutch with two hands in front of their bodies. However, this causes us to round our shoulders, which can be as detrimental as sitting with bad posture all day in front of your computer or television. This pose causes the muscles across your chest and the front of the shoulders to shorten and tighten, overstretching and weakening the muscles across your upper back.
Solution: Hold your clutch in one hand but remember to swap hands often. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and down; try to keep your palms forward as this will encourage your shoulders to roll backwards instead of inwards.
2. The arm-crook hook
The latest fashion statement is to hook your bag on your elbow. This screams power and confidence. Depending on the weight of your bag, this causes extra work for the elbow and bicep muscles. It can also cause the shoulder to round. Remember what we are told about lifting heavy objects: keep them close to the body and their weight is more evenly distributed and manageable. The best solution is to keep swapping arms and keep the load light.
3. The cross-body
This style allows you to keep both hands free and, as the bag is held close to the body, the weight is more evenly distributed. This is the best way to carry your bag. It’s kind to your posture.
4. The Shoulder Bag
Carrying your bag on one shoulder can be bad for your posture, especially if you carry a lot of things and your bag is heavy. Carrying your bag in this way can put pressure on the joints at the top of your shoulder (the acromioclavicular joint). It can cause local pain and also fatigue of the muscles in your arm and upper back, as they work hard to balance the load. These muscles can also affect the neck, leading to neck pain and even headaches.
Solution: If you carry your bag in this way, use your free hand to support the weight of your bag. Focus attention on your posture, ensuring that your shoulders are back and down.
5. Traditional handbag
If you are accustomed to carrying heavy loads in your hand you will find that you end up leaning towards the load, causing asymmetry, and putting a stretch on one side of your body and compression on the other. As well as affecting muscles, this can irritate ligaments, which can become inflamed and painful.
Solution: Try to carry even loads in both hands or, if you have just one load, change sides regularly.
But how you carry your bag doesn’t just affect your posture, it can also have a negative impact on how you walk. Our natural pattern of walking involves swinging our arms; this is the body’s way of keeping balance. If you are unable to swing your arms and legs in a coordinated way, your body will compensate for this change in balance. So next time you pick up your bag, stop and think: Is my bag affecting my posture and walking style?