Today I want to talk to ladies…and men so that you can hold this discussion with the ladies who you care for.

It is classy and fashionable to carry a big purse or a handbag. But, carrying that heavy purse can cause the muscle, which sits on top of your shoulders, to spasm and therefore tighten, along with the muscles that go from your shoulder to the base of your neck.

What happens when you carry a heavy purse?

  • Your natural gait is thrown off. Carrying a shoulder bag on one shoulder significantly interferes with the normal gait. The gait is the way your arms and legs swing when you walk naturally, and it’s an important way to keep your body balanced. When you put a handbag on one side of the body, it means the arm on that side cannot swing properly and the other arm has to swing more. People can develop problems because of that.
  • Your muscles are off balance. Since all of the weight of your bag is on one shoulder, you are carrying an asymmetric load, which throws off your posture. Most people tend to carry purses on their side of dominance – if you are right-handed, you will hang it over your right shoulder. But this causes the muscles in your dominant shoulder, particularly the trapezius muscle, to become bigger. In my daily work as a Physiotherapist, I see asymmetry in posture — like, one shoulder is higher than the other. This emanates from the chronic forcing of the muscles on one side to become more developed than the muscles on the other side. This asymmetric load also causes muscles in your spine to compensate for the weight, which can cause the opposite side of the spine to go into spasm. This overcompensation can also affect your lower back and your sacrum (the bone at the base of the lower spine). The more asymmetric the load, the more everything below the shoulder will have to work.

As a result, your muscles become stiff. Carrying that heavy purse can cause the trapezius muscle, which sits on top of your shoulders, to spasm and therefore tighten, along with the muscles that go from your shoulder to the base of your neck. When this happens, it can cause a lot of stiffness in the upper back, the shoulder area and the neck. It can also cause a decreased curve in the neck, which is known as “military neck.”

I also see people who develop arthritis in their neck, in their lower neck, because their neck has been forced to carry this heavy weight for such a long period of time. The delicate muscles that help you carry your purse also assist with turning the head, making that action painful.

You can even get headaches. Some people will develop tension headaches from the muscles being forced to do all of this heavy lifting. When the muscles in your shoulder and neck area spasm, it can cause pain in the back of your skull that radiates around to the front.

What You Can Do To Fix The Damage

Reduce the weight of your bag. The rule of thumb is to never carry more than 10 percent of your body weight, but physiotherapists recommend not exceeding 5 percent with purses. And you may be carrying more than you realize! Try to actually weigh your purse and you may be surprised how much weight you are carrying. It is also important to make sure that the purse itself is not heavy — many of the accoutrements of designer bags, like studs and big zippers, add unnecessary weight.

Opt for bags with wider straps. The wider the strap, the better. This is because it distributes the weight over a wider area. This protects the delicate structures in the shoulder where your nerves go from the neck into the arm, a pretty delicate area in terms of potential injury from heavy weight.

Even better, choose bags with alternative strap options. I would recommend choosing bags with handles you can hold in your hand (“1950s style”) as well as longer straps for cross-body wearing to better distribute the weight and give your shoulders periodic breaks.

Figure out your purse’s “sweet spot.” It is important to choose a bag that is right for your body. If the handbag is too short or high up, it is going to affect the way your arm can swing. But if a handbag is too long, it will affect the way your hips swing when you walk. You want to be able to swing your hips and your shoulders freely without being bumped by the bag.

Switch shoulders periodically. It is highly recommended to switch your purse to the opposite shoulder every block or two when walking so that you balance the way your body carries the weight and your muscles develop equally.

Do not text while carrying your purse. Remember “military neck”? It is not always caused by just a handbag. Sometimes it is the double-duty of texting and looking down that causes the curve in your neck to get lost and get flat.

Mind your footwear. The combination of high heels and heavy purses is a recipe for disaster, since heels cause you to tilt your pelvis forward and predispose you to back pain. When you throw the heavy purse into the mix, you have even more of a chance for chronic pain and irritating injury.

Now you know the dangers of carrying a heavy purse. You know what to do…

Written By;  Eunice Kabana,
Physiotherapist,
C & P Health Center.

When You Carry Your Heavy Hand Bag

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