Body & Fitness

Back pain and your bag

I've just done an inventory of the contents of my handbag and found, among other things, a small water bottle, a book, a camera, a diary, my makeup bag, a fold-up umbrella and two hardboiled eggs. No wonder it's heavy, and no wonder I often have knots of pain in my shoulder!

The contents of your handbag may be harmful to your health according to a British study, which has found the average handbag weighs around 3.2kg.

As a result of lugging around so much weight all the time, many of us are suffering from back and neck pain, poor posture and other health problems, say experts. Here’s how your handbag can affect your body, and what you can do about it.


When you carry a bag over your shoulder, your neck naturally leans away from it to help balance the load. This causes tension on the carrying side of the neck, and compression on the opposite side.

Because the compression occurs in a place where nerves come together before heading down to the arm, the strain can lead to neck pain and muscle inflammation. You may get painful spasms that restrict your movement.

Back & shoulders

The shoulder bearing the load moves backwards and is raised, which can affect the muscles running down the upper back and in the shoulder blades. Not only can they spasm, but they also become tired so they don’t hold the spine correctly, leading to bad posture. Long term, this can result in arthritis in some joints of the spine.

Meanwhile the side of the body not carrying the bag leans away from it, crunching the lower back on this side, which can compress vertebrae and wear them down. over time, this can cause disc degeneration.


The nerves in your arms can become irritated by the pressure of the bag, leading to chronic pain.

Hips & leg

Carrying a heavy bag can make you walk differently – for example you often take shorter steps, and don’t swing the arm over which the bag is slung – and over time this means your skeleton may not function in the way it’s designed to, leading to musculoskeletal problems.

And the heavier your bag, the more pressure you’re putting on your leg joints. Eventually this may cause wear and tear on your knees.

Ease the load

  • Clear out everything except essentials

  • Buy a smaller bag so there’s less room for heavy things

  • If you have to tote around lots of stuff, buy a rucksack-style bag

  • With a shoulder bag, switch sides at regular intervals

  • A bag with wide straps will better distribute pressure across the shoulder

  • A satchel-style bag with a diagonal strap can also distribute weight better

Health watch

  • Babies born by caesarean have a greater risk of becoming obese later in life than those delivered naturally, according to Brazilian research. Scientists say beneficial bacteria in the birth canal could explain the link. Another theory is that obese women are more likely to have caesareans, and more likely to have children with weight problems.

  • Botox may help ease the pain of migraines. A Spanish study found having the anti-wrinkle treatment injected into trigger points on the neck and scalp halved the number of crippling migraines suffered by 20% of patients. It may work by blocking pain signal transmissions to the brain.

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