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5 Ways to Deal With Purse Pain

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Take some pressure off with these tips from a pro.

woman taking in the sun wearing a backpack

Fanny packs and sling bags have resurged as trendy accessories, but when it comes to bearing life's heavy loads, they aren't the most practical for carrying more than a phone and keys. For everyday use, most of us want a purse more like Mary Poppins's carpet bag, capable of holding everything we might ever need.

The trouble with wanting a bag to carry so much is that all that stuff adds up, throwing your body's ergonomic harmony out of balance—which means pain and Advil are in your immediate future.

"Especially in this day and age, when people are carrying their lives in their bags, if the weight isn't properly distributed, it can cause strain and cause long-term devastation," says Dr. Steven Shoshany, a chiropractor based in New York. "If you're carrying a heavy purse with your laptop and your gym shoes and your lunch, that can add up to twenty pounds. That could impact the distribution of weight, causing tension in your neck and shoulders."

Carrying a heavy bag can lead to neck pain, shoulder pain, forward head posture (also known as “text neck”), carpal tunnel syndrome, and nerve irritation, according to Shoshany. Though it might not be possible to go from lugging around a purse, tote bag, and gym bag to carrying just a mini crossbody, you can take steps to make it easier on your body.

"What you do all day, every day, has an impact on your overall posture and well-being," Shoshany says. "You should carry things strategically so that you're not doing more harm than good."

In the spirit of doing less harm, here are some things you can try to help yourself out:

Weigh Your Bag

Weigh the bags that are in your regular rotation (and make sure to pack them with what you usually carry), then put yourself on the scale. Does your bag weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight? If so, hard as it might be, it's time to pull some things from your purse. Putting too much weight on your body creates excess tension in your back, Shoshany says. Consider a roller bag in cases where you need to transport more than 10 percent of your body weight.

Go Cross-Body

If you carry a messenger bag or your purse has a long shoulder strap, try wearing it across your body instead of on one side.

Switch Sides

People tend to favor one side of their body when it comes to their bags. Consistently wearing your bag on the same shoulder can lead to a shoulder imbalance, Shoshany says. If you compress the same muscle over a long period of time, it can cause the muscle to become knotted and can affect your posture. Shoshany suggests alternating sides, ideally every few minutes, even if you're wearing your bag across the body.

Switch to a Backpack—but Wear It Right

In the ranking of bags, backpacks are at the top because they distribute weight evenly across the body. Of course, the weight distribution won't be even if you wear your backpack on just one shoulder, so be sure to wear one strap on each shoulder. Shoshany also recommends that the backpack not hang lower than 4 inches below your waistline, and to choose a backpack that has wider, padded straps over a backpack with narrow straps.

Stretch

At the end of the day (or at any point when you're not wearing a bag), do some quick stretches to give your body some relief. Shoshany suggests stretching your head and neck away from your usual bag-holding shoulder. You can also try stretching your head back in a gentle extension—it not only counteracts the effects of carrying your bag, it but also combats the strain of regularly looking down at your phone.

Find other great health and wellness stories at MarthaStewart.com/Strive.