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Is Your Large Purse The Cause Of Your Back Pain?

March 14th, 2021

You can get back pain, neck pain or shoulder pain relief by changing what you carry around in your large purse. The fact is that most of us carry far too much in our bags these days – laptops, iPads, phones, makeup, wallets, personal hygiene items, books, documents, water bottles, snacks and the list goes on! This additional weight is destroying our backs. The contemporary woman loves to carry a large purse, but the truth is that bigger bags result in heavier loads!

Sure, we want to be prepared for every event. But the “just-in-case” mindset comes with a hefty price. Heavy oversized bags carry a serious risk of injury. The combination of the weight of the bag against your muscles, tendons, nerves, and ligaments, plus the compensating shift in your posture you make to carry the heavy load, can lead to back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, pain in your buttocks, headaches and general body aches, especially if your upper-body muscles are already weak or tight. Over time, you could experience more severe nerve trauma or even degenerative joint disease, all due to injuries caused by carrying a bag that is too heavy.

If you lug around a large purse that is too heavy, you will probably end up with a sore shoulders, sore neck, sore back and/or sore arms. This is because the trapezius muscles in the upper back and the cervical para-spinal muscles in the neck become strained from carrying a heavy weight in one position over time.

First, the weight pulls on the network of nerves that can cause aching or shooting pain from the neck down the arm. Furthermore, every time you throw your heavy large purse over your shoulder, the upper back muscles that support the shoulder blade must fight to counterbalance that weight; sooner or later they get overworked and painful. And the symptoms don’t stop there, because if you load, say, 10 extra pounds onto one side of the body, and it can cause the trunk to tilt sideways to compensate, adding lower-back pain to the list of pains.

The pressure on the muscles in the back of the head and shoulders can cause symptoms such as:

1. Upper neck, shoulder and back pain

2. Poor posture

3. Muscle spasms

4. Sciatica (including nerve pain in the buttocks and down the legs)

5. Tendinitis of the elbow

6. Injury to the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder

7. Tension headaches

8. Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or fingers due to pinched nerves

9. Lower back pain

Over time you can end up with an increased risk of Scoliosis which is defined also as curvature of the spine; Kyphosis, also known as hunchback especially in women with weak bones; painful osteoarthritis; and/or full-blown degenerative joint disease in the shoulders.

According to specialist, Dr. Erickson, the reasons that your heavy large purse causes all these horrible symptoms is because:

1. Your natural gait is thrown off. Your gait is the way your arms and legs swing when you walk naturally. It keeps your body balanced. But if you put a heavy large purse on one side of your body, your arm on that side can’t swing properly and your other arm has to swing more.

2. Your muscles are then off balance and you develop an asymmetry in your posture. Since all of the weight of your bag is on one shoulder, you’re carrying an asymmetric load, which throws off your posture. Most people tend to carry purses on their dominant side, i.e. if you’re right-handed, you’ll hang it over your right shoulder. But this causes the muscles in your dominant shoulder, particularly the trapezius muscle, to become enlarged.

3. A heavy asymmetric load causes muscles in your spine to compensate for the weight, which can cause the opposite side of your spine to go into spasm. This over-compensation 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 the muscles below the shoulder have to work, and as a result, your muscles become stiff and painful.

4. Carrying that heavy purse can cause the trapezius muscle, which sits on top of your shoulders, to go into spasm and therefore, tighten, along with the muscles that go from your shoulder to the base of your neck causing 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.

5. You can develop arthritis in your neck if you carry a heavy weight for a long period of time. The delicate muscles that help you carry your purse also aid with turning the head, making that action painful.

6. You can get 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 resulting in headaches.

How To Carry Your Large Purse Safely

Apart from the size and weight of your large purse, it is how you carry your purse that can cause aches and pains. Avoid injury by making these simple adjustments.

1. Change from side to side: Carrying a bag on the same side continually can overwork muscles and permanently affect your posture. To prevent this, frequently switch sides from time to time.

2. Carry your bag diagonally across your shoulder. It is best to carry a heavy bag across your body and adjust the strap to minimize swing. This allows the core trunk muscles to carry more of the load.

3. Do not raise your shoulder to stop your bag from slipping. If your bag is so heavy that you have to scrunch up your shoulder to hold it in place it will create a bad posture which will lead to shoulder, neck, and upper back pain because muscles have to work extra hard.. Do not hike up one shoulder, in an attempt to stop your bag straps from falling off, because it will only tighten the muscles on that side.

4. Do not carry your heavy bag in the crook of your arm because it can lead to elbow injuries like tendinitis. Limit strain by carrying two small bags instead of one heavy one or use a backpack.

5. Maintain a good posture when you carry a large purse by keeping your abs engaged (like you’re buttoning up a tight pair of pants), your weight centred over your feet, and your shoulder blades down and back.

6. Firm up your upper body with exercises: You are more likely to experience pain is your upper-body muscles are weak or tight. Firm up with stretches and strength moves.

7. Resist the temptation to text while carrying your large purse. The double strain of texting and carrying that extra weight may cause the curve in your neck to get lost and get flat leading to pain.

8. Wear sensible footwear because the combination of high heels and heavy purses is a recipe for injury. High heels tilt your pelvis forward and predispose you to back pain and if a heavy purse is thrown into the mix, you have even more of a chance for chronic pain and irritating injury.

Change The Type of Large Purse You Carry

If you really need to carry a lot of items change the style of large purse you use. A messenger bag, cross body bag or a backpack distribute the weight more evenly. If your load is very heavy think about using a trolley bag.

Lifting any weight over 25 pounds has the possibility of causing injury, especially if you’re moving the object from a position below your knees to above your waist or holding it in front of your body. If carrying a heavy load, you need to counterbalance to prevent the muscles from being overstretched.

Choose the right type of bag for you which adds functionality; health and safety; together with style and fashion. Some tips:

1. Pick a bag with minimal hardware. Buckles, grommets, belts, and other trimmings add to the weight of the bag; a sleeker style inevitably lightens your load. Go for a bag that’s classic and steam-lined without all sorts of accessories.

2. Pick a bag with a wide strap, one that is at least 2 inches (5 cm) wide to spread weight evenly. The thicker the better. A narrow strap focusses force and can dig into and irritate the ligaments at the acromioclavicular joint, where your collar bone meets your shoulder blade.

3. Better still, pick a bag with alternative strap options so that you can alternate how you wear it. E.g., choose a bag which has handles that you can hold in your hand, as well as longer straps for cross-body wearing to better disperse the weight to give your shoulders a rest.

4. Pick a bag that has straps that are the right length for your body and adjust the straps so they are set up correctly for you. If the handbag is too short or high up, it’s going to affect the way your arm can swing. But if too long, it will affect the way your hips swing when you walk. You need to be able to swing your hips and your shoulders freely without being jarred by the bag.

5. Pick a bag made in a lightweight material, especially if you need a large purse to carry your daily essentials. A nylon or fabric shell is characteristically much lighter than leather though butter-soft leathers may also be lighter.

6. Ensure that the bag has different compartments to allocate the weight evenly. Without compartments, all your things will collect in one spot in the bag, creating a painful load to carry.

7. Pick a smaller sized bag. It’s only logical: the bigger the bag the heavier it is and the more rubbish you lug around.

Reduce What You Carry In Your Bag

Weigh your large purse. If it is over 25 pounds it is much too heavy. Your full bag shouldn’t weigh more than 10% of your body weight, so if you’re 150 pounds, your bag (and its contents) should not be more than 15 pounds. In fact, some specialists recommend that the limit should be only 5% of your body weight. Evaluate what you truly need to take with you and be brutal – health is more important than being prepared for any event! So put your bag on a diet:

1. The weight of the large purse itself- bags can weigh anything from less than a pound up to several pounds depending on the size, the material and hardware. If your bag is 8 to 10 pounds the drag from it may cause problems. Pick a bag which appeals to your fashion style but has functionality and safety built in.

2. A wallet may weigh a pound or more – remove unused cards, receipts and put coins in a jar.

3. Key chains can be 2 pounds or more – remove any keys you don’t need. Choose a light-weight key ring.

4. Coupons together can weigh a pound or more – toss out all expired coupons – or upload them to your phone.

5. Make-up bags all up may weigh 2-3 pounds or more – only carry items you need to refresh your makeup.

6. Personal hygiene packets can weigh up to a pound – take just what you need but don’t be caught short.

7. Documents can add up in weight – say 2-3 pounds or more – be a planner and only carry what you need for the day.

8. Pens and pencils add weight also, up to a pound – select what you need and store the rest

9. Laptops can weight several pounds so choose a light weight model for travel

10. Mobile phones and I-pads can also weigh several pounds

11. Snacks and water bottles add significant weight

When you add everything up that you like or need to carry you can see it would very quickly get to be well over 5-10% of your body weight.

Do Upper Body Exercises To Strengthen

If you have weak muscles in your upper body you are more likely to develop pain from carrying a large purse which is too heavy. Strengthen your muscles with some routine exercises. If experiencing pain, consult a doctor before starting these exercises.

1. Neck Rotation – Slowly circle head to from right, forward, and left; then reverse. Do 5 to 10 repeats per side.

2. Neck Stretch – Stand tall, with your right hand behind head near left ear. Gently pull down toward right shoulder; hold 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.

3. Resistance Band Row – Place the left foot on a resistance band and the right foot back, and hold one handle with right hand. Slowly draw elbow up toward ribs. Hold for one count, and then lower. Do 12 to 15 repeats. Switch sides and repeat.

4. Shoulder Roll – Stand tall with shoulders pressed down. Roll shoulders up, back, down, and forward in a circle 10 times; repeat in the reverse direction.

5. Lat Pull- Down – Place centre of resistance band firmly in a closed doorway, one end in each hand. Raise hands above head, and then pull elbows down to sides. Hold for one count, and then raise hands back to start. Do 12 to 15 repeats.

Other things that can help to strengthen your upper body are stretching, yoga, pilates, light weights and other forms of exercise which make sure that your shoulders are equally strong and toned. It’s also useful to try walking without a bag from time to time to reinstate your natural gait.


I recommend that you totally empty out your large purse and start again with only the bare necessities of life. Decrease the load and you will be surprised at what an improvement it makes to your general health. Ease the pain by reducing the weight in your bag in order to avoid shoulder or back pain. Choose stuff which is lighter so that it fits into your large purse. If you’ve sorted out your large purse, but still have numbness or tingling in your hands, a decrease in grip strength, or increasing back pain, seek medical help.