Why Does It Hurt to Carry My Bag?

Do you experience pain in your neck, shoulders, or back from carrying a backpack, purse, briefcase, or other heavy bag? Bag safety awareness is so important. People often injure themselves by carrying bags that are too heavy or by simply carrying bags incorrectly.

UPMC Rehabilitation Institute physical and occupational therapists can help you prevent injury. They can teach you how to carry your bag properly to work, school, the store, or wherever your day takes you.

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Recognizing When Your Bag Is Too Heavy

A heavy bag may seem hard to avoid. However, making it lighter to protect your body and keep you comfortable throughout the day is worth it. Think, “Do I really need all of these items today?” before you head out the door.

Your bag is probably too heavy if you:

  • Struggle to pick it up or take it off.
  • Experience pain while wearing it.
  • Have tingling, numbness, or tightness.
  • Notice it leaves marks.
  • Change your posture to carry it.

Selecting the Right Bag

Let’s face it: We often choose bags for their looks. Sometimes we even choose them because of the sheer amount they can hold, especially if we’re thinking about carry-on luggage.

But the truth is that we should choose bags for comfortability, functionality, and ergonomics. Next time you go to pick out a backpack, briefcase, or purse, consider whether it holds just the necessities. Also consider whether it is comfortable for your body to carry.

For a backpack:

  • A padded bag can reduce pressure on the back and enhance comfort.
  • Hip and chest belts are highly recommended for when the load is heavy.
  • Two contoured and padded shoulder straps reduce pressure on the shoulders and permit free movement of the arms.
  • Multiple compartments not only enhance access to the contents but better distribute the weight in the backpack and keep items secure.

For an over-the-shoulder or handheld bag:

  • Consider a small, compact purse or bag for short errands and a small backpack for longer errands.
  • Avoid heavy-load, over-the-shoulder tote-style bags.
  • Select bags with built-in compartments, which will help to distribute the weight more evenly.
  • Choose a bag that is proportionate to your body size and no larger than necessary.
  • Avoid thin and long straps. Seek out wide and adjustable straps. Ensure that the straps do not cause discomfort.

Packing Your Bag

Do you ever just toss everything in your bag and head out the door? Organizing your bag will help you easily retrieve items later. It will also improve the bag’s weight distribution and help you feel better while carrying it.

Consider these tips while packing your bag:

  • Distribute weight evenly and remove any unnecessary items.
  • To reduce weight, regularly empty your wallet of coins.

For backpacks:

  • Place the heaviest items closest to your back rather than in your front pockets.
  • Use both shoulder straps and wear the pack close to your mid-back.
  • Use proper lifting and lowering techniques: use your legs, tighten your core, and keep your back straight.

Carrying Your Bag

Now, your bag can’t do all of the work. The best bags often have a design that requires you to carry them in a specific way, with proper ergonomics and posture. Treat carrying your bag as exercise, especially if it’s reasonably heavy.

Don’t just fling it over your shoulder. Engage your muscles and carry it properly from place to place. Our experts say:

  • Only carry what you can comfortably manage.
  • Never place a backpack on your back with a slumped spine.
  • Keep your head high while lifting and carrying.
  • Switch a purse or bag position frequently to avoid fatigue.
  • For crossbody bags, switch shoulders often.
  • Square your shoulders and avoid lifting shoulders to keep straps from slipping.
  • Consider resting your bag on the counter at checkout.
  • Place your bag on a waist-high platform while loading and unloading.

Engage in exercises like swimming, jumping jacks, pull-ups, and overhead presses to condition your back muscles to safely carry everything you need in your bag.

Be sure to consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine.

To learn more, visit UPMC Rehabilitation Institute or call 1-888-723-4277.

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

About UPMC Rehabilitation Institute

The UPMC Rehabilitation Institute offers inpatient, outpatient, and transitional rehabilitation, as well as outpatient physician services so that care is available to meet the needs of our patients at each phase of the recovery process. Renowned physiatrists from the University of Pittsburgh Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, as well as highly trained physical, occupational, and speech therapists, provide individualized care in 12 inpatient units within acute care hospitals and over 80 outpatient locations close to home and work.