Your Purse Could Be Breaking Your Back. Literally.

Published on 10/10/2016

  • Your Purse Could Be Breaking Your Back. Literally.

It doesn’t require the unique skills of a rocket scientist to carry a purse, but there’s a good chance you’re doing it all wrong. Yes, you really can carry a purse the wrong way, and doing so can cause long-term damage to your body. Here’s how to do it right.

Just how your purse wrecking your back

The human body was designed to carry a set amount of weight. That amount is generally thought to be about 10 percent of your body weight. Sure, we can bear heavier burdens from time to time--like when we haul overloaded grocery bags home from the store or balance children on our hips-- but doing this for extended periods of time every single day can lead to injury.

What’s in your purse?

According to Strauman Holistic Chiropractic, a recent study has shown that the average woman's purse weighs 6.27 pounds. That's like strapping a five-pound bag of flour to your body all day, and that's a problem. The consequences of doing this day in and day out are back pain and spasms and neck strain and leg pain, some of which can become chronic and cause permanent nerve, muscle and spine damage.

Why, exactly, does a mere five pounds wreak such havoc on the body when most of us can benchpress far more weight?

It’s simple, really: A purse is carried on just one shoulder, plus it’s often overloaded unnecessarily, the combination of which throws your body out of alignment. Your natural gait--which is how you walk, easily and mindlessly swinging your arms and freely putting one foot in front of the other without much thought--is thrown off when there’s a cumbersome object dangling from just one side of your body. With a burdensome purse weighing you down, you no longer swing both arms naturally, and you may even lean to one side a little under the load without even realizing it. All that leads to chronic inflammation and pain, both of which set you up for the possibility of permanent damage.

Design is more important than you think

Most purses are made with an eye for style, only giving a cursory thought to function. This is why the average 30-year-old woman owns 21 handbags and buys a new model every few months. Evening bags serve a different purpose than carry-alls, totes cater to a different crowd than designer snaps, and so on.

Unlike backpacks, which have internal pockets for various gear and thickly padded shoulder straps, most purses are simply one large under-thought-out pouch held to your body by a slim strip of fabric that cuts into your shoulder when filled.

What to do about it

You don’t have swap out your purse for an oversized backpack to get the comfort and utility knapsacks are famous for. You can do your body (and your purse) good by making a few simple adjustments.

  1. Lighten your load. If you don’t know what’s in your purse, it’s probably too heavy. Giving up your packrat tendencies will help you avoid a too-heavy bag once you’ve done away with the non-essentials.

  2. Switch sides often. Move the bag from your left to right shoulder regularly to prevent muscle strain on one side of your body. If you’re carrying a clutch or other strapless bag, move it from one hand to the other, never favoring one side over the other.

  3. Pick wider straps. Thicker straps on bags won’t cut into muscles and cause discomfort.

  4. Go with function over form. Choose a bag that fits your lifestyle and allows you to carry all of your things comfortably. If you need quick access to keys or money, look for purses with pockets and places for your essentials.

  5. Choose quality. Pick one or two bags that fit you well, and then stop shopping. A high-quality bag, backpack or messenger bag with comfortable straps and enough room for your most carried items will last a lifetime.

Picking the right bag and filling it to the right weight can mean the difference between a lifetime of backaches and a life well-lived.


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