What You Need to Know about Handbags & Backpacks & Your Back

Learn why heavy handbags and backpacks are bad for you and what you can do to minimize back damage from Dr. Karen Erickson in this Howcast video.

As a spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association, I have done so many interviews. Wall Street Journal, New York Times, O Magazine, on heavy handbags. Why? It’s a really big issue particularly for women, and kids too.

Why are people using these giant heavy handbags? Most of us leave our house at the crack of dawn, and we carry our entire life in these handbags. Gym shoes, gym clothes, water, books, that accumulate a little bit more each day as the week goes on, so before we know it we’re carrying this really heavy bag.

The American Chiropractic Association recommends that even in a backpack, which is carried on both sides, you should never carry more than 10 percent of your body weight. But I bet that if most of you weighed your handbags they weigh much more than you think they do.

There are some really some specific recommendations that I can make to help people trim down their bags and also carry them in a way that’s not going to be such a burden to their body.

The first thing I recommend people do is, everyday on a regular basis, empty out your bag. Almost dump it completely out and then put stuff back in that you really need. Particularly things like water and coins shouldn’t be carried in handbags. They’re just too heavy and they add a lot of weight. It creeps up on you.

The other thing I recommend is that people keep additional sets of commonly used items either in their car or at their office so they don’t have to carry heavy things in their handbags. This would include things like make-up kits, shoes, water, hair brushes, and make-up kits.

So now let’s talk about how to carry your heavy handbag. The first thing I recommend is that you purchase a handbag that’s not so heavy by itself. A lot of the handbags that are out there are made with leather. Some of them have metal chains and they’re heavy even with nothing in them. So pick a bag that’s lightweight to begin with.

The other thing is to pick a bag that has a strap that’s not too long or not too short. We really want the handbag to snuggle in your side, above your hip, and under your armpit. If it’s too high on your armpit, you can’t swing your arms, and if the bag is too low it will interfere with how your leg swings when you walk. You really want to maintain a very balanced perfect gait when you walk, and getting the handbag to fit your body and hit the sweet spot really makes a big difference.

The other thing I’d recommend is that you change the handbag from one side to the other every few blocks. It makes a really big difference. Most of us get into the habit of carrying a shoulder bag on one shoulder for years and years and we never switch, and that makes the muscles on that side overdevelop. So it’s really important to switch the side of the handbag.

Finally, if you have the option of using a roller bag or a backpack, it’s a really good idea, especially if you have to carry something very heavy. If you do decide to go the backpack route, and I recommend backpacks a lot, make sure you get a backpack that has well padded shoulder straps and adjust those straps so that it really fits your body. The backpacks should not sit on your low back or your sacrum. It should be up higher so the weight is properly distributed.

The other thing is to make sure that you actually wear the backpack the way it’s meant to be worn with two straps on your shoulders. So many people just take the backpack and put it on one shoulder and that puts a lot of stress on your neck and shoulders.

It’s important if you can everyday, to put your heavy handbag or backpack down and just go take a walk with nothing on your shoulders at all. It really helps balance your body, having a normal gait where your shoulders and your hips get to swing in the opposite motion with your hands just gently swinging at your side.