My recent article on helping children avoid backpack-related back pain got me thinking about all of the women out there who carry a purse. On any given day, the contents inside a woman’s satchel can help her solve just about every conceivable problem - sew a button on a pair of pants, patch her child’s boo-boo with a band-aid, keep her lips moisturized with lipstick, and catch a sneeze with a tissue. Women are almost always expected to have an array of fix-it items and beauty essentials in their handbags, in addition to a wallet, phone, keys and sunglasses, which are mainstays in purses across the U.S. Tack on some heavy-duty hardware for fashion (think chains, buckles, clasps and jewels), and it’s a unhealthy combination that can contribute to or worsen back pain in women everywhere.
If you’ve stood in line, had a long, impromptu conversation dropping off a child at school or if you walk to work, carrying a heavy handbag has probably been a reality for you. But lugging a too-heavy satchel can lead to a host of health risks including strained muscles, numbness, tingling in the arm from nerve trauma and unnecessary pressure on the spine or lower back pain. If you’re prone to back pain or other medical-related injuries, proceed with caution when filling your prepared-for-anything purse.
The first step in preventing or alleviating back pain that may be caused by carrying a heavy satchel is to lighten your load. Consider daily must-haves versus wants, or even occasional items. How often do you really use the sewing kit? Do you use all of the lipsticks you store in those hidden pockets? Heavy culprits that can add major bulk to a purse might be unnecessary keys, spare change, or technology items like a tablet, camera or iPod and fix-it items like a mini screwdriver, utility knife or spare scissors. Even all those store rewards cards can add to unnecessary weight in a purse.
If you’ve already pared down and still find your bag to be heavy, look at the bag itself. If you’re carrying a big purse, it often means there’s always room for more “stuff.” Change the shape or choose a smaller-sized bag, and it may force you to carry only the items you absolutely need. Does the bag have buckles, extra zippers or other fashion hardware on the outside? How about an extra strap, snap or pocket? Every ounce makes a difference. Think about switching from heavy leather to canvas or a light cotton material with minimal “adornments.”
Another important factor to consider is to switch up the way you carry your bag, and limit the amount of time you spend carrying it. If you tend to carry one bag for all of your day’s needs, perhaps look at breaking items up into satchels designated for their purpose - a gym bag or rolling work briefcase, for example. Also consider keeping smaller items in pouch-type bags that can easily transfer from purse-to- gym bag to break up how often you’re carrying the same, heavy catch-all.
To help relieve and prevent any back pain or tension you may be experiencing, try to stretch daily, use a foam roller or a stability ball for strengthening your muscles and increased flexibility, or focus on spine-strengthening exercises like rows or pull-ups. Of course, if you’re new to any of these physical activities, please seek professional guidance and advice from your physician before starting an exercise regimen. Regardless of the type of purse you carry from season-to-season, your spine is with you for a lifetime, so make sure to take care of it.