Is your handbag a pain in the neck?

If you look at someone from the side, their spine should be a gentle S-shaped curve. From behind, their spine should be a straight line.

Anything that causes the spine to be pushed or pulled away from this ideal shape can cause strain in the spine, and the more often it happens, the more this strain can build up. This can lead to headaches, pain in the neck, upper or lower back.

Carrying handbags that are too heavy is one such cause of strain.

The trend for oversized bags means there is more space to fill. The bigger the bag, the more tempting it is to pack it all in.

The Daily Mail in 2007 quoted a study which found that women today carry twice as much in their handbags as their mothers used to. Mum might have had a coin purse, a powder compact, a couple of tissues and a house key.

Increasingly, women are carrying more gadgets such as iPods and mobile phones, which has created a demand for larger handbags. A survey in the Independent in 2008 showed that the average weight of a woman’s handbag has increased by 38% over five years to 2.37 kilos (5lbs). In some cases the weight of a full handbag can be up to 7kg (15 lbs). As well as packing more inside, the handbags themselves are often heavy.

Overfilling an enormous bag is less of a problem if you can just throw it in the car, but if you need to walk any distance carrying it, the strain just builds up.

Carrying a bag on one shoulder leads to improper weight distribution across the neck, shoulder and back, causing strain in the joints, muscles and ligaments of the spine, which can lead to pain. Carrying the bag over one shoulder causes the shoulder to hike up which can shorten the muscles.

As a result, more and more women are requiring treatment for neck, shoulder and back pain.

The Health & Safety Executive report that back pain is more common when lifting heavy items;
carrying loads awkwardly, or one handed; repetitive tasks; bending or crouching; lifting when tired.
Although there is no such thing as a completely ‘safe’ lift, for an average woman, the maximum recommended weight to lift from the floor is 3kg or from knee height 7kg. This assumes that the bag is grasped with both hands, and lifted in reasonable conditions, with the lifter in a stable body position. If you usually put your handbag on the floor when not on th move, your limit is 3kg, if you are able to lift and lower it carefully with both hands!

If it is really necessary to carry a large handbag, try to reduce the weight of the handbag itself to no more than 1 to 2 lbs. Then try to minimise how much stuff you’re putting in your bag. Ditch anything you don’t need and then think about how you carry your bag. You should alternate the bag from one shoulder to another, every 10-15 minutes.

It is much better not to carry the entire weight of the bag on one shoulder.

Ideally the weight should be distributed evenly across your body, which means using something like a rucksack, or pulling a carrying case with wheels for heavier items. The next best option is to wear a bag that you carry across your body like a satchel.

Here are a few tips to keep your handbag from being a burden.

– Weigh your handbag. You might be amazed by how much it weighs!
– Think through the day ahead and pack your handbag accordingly. There’s no need to cart around sunglasses if the season has changed.
– Pack a smaller make-up bag with a few essentials. You’ll only have to touch up your make-up during the day so leave the foundation and brushes at home.
– De-clutter your purse of small change – clear it out or try to use it up.

Exercising regularly is also advisable. If you have a strong core from exercise like pilates, you’re much less likely to hurt yourself.

For the sake of your spine, when you choose a handbag, less is always better!

It’s important to find ways to stay healthy while staying in fashion.

For advice on your posture, or advice on exercises for a strong core, see an experienced physiotherapist.

If you have pain from repeated carrying, or from your posture, for the right kind of hands on treatment, see an experienced physiotherapist.

The Green Clinic is based in Edgware, Middlesex, and in Shenley, Herts.

Our Edgware clinic is easily accessible from Mill Hill or Stanmore.

The Green Clinic: Chartered Physiotherapists Stephen or Talia
020 8728 0625 www.edgwarephysio.com

Our Shenley clinic is easily accessible from Radlett, Borehamwood and Elstree.

The Gingerbread House: Chartered Physiotherapists Stephen or Talia
01923 852852 www.radlettphysio.co.uk

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