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Is Your Handbag causing your Pain? Weigh it.

It happened again today. A healthy looking 40 year old showed up at the office with complaints of severe neck pain and right arm numbness and tingling. Her MRI showed some mild disc degeneration but nothing that should really be causing the problems she was describing. She insisted that every time she walked for long periods, or had a busy day running errands, she would be miserable for hours afterwards. Then I saw her purse.

Let’s talk…

How much do you actually have to carry when you go out? Sure you might have some files and your lunch to take to work, but for most people that’s one trip from the parking lot to the office. If you carry large amounts of work for long distances, hopefully you have discovered rolling briefcases/file boxes.

Several years ago a study was done on how the heavy book bags that children had to carry, affected their spines. Afterwards “school copies” of books became available and bags with better weight distribution were made available. I have yet to see a study on women’s purses. It’s the women (maybe a few men, but mostly women) that feel they have to carry all their earthly belongings with them every time they leave the house. They keep adding to that bag (purse, pocketbook, or handbag) they carry, and do not once consider what it is doing to their neck and back.

If I handed you a 10 pound weight and asked you to carry it with you everywhere you go for the next month, you would think I was crazy and say “absolutely not. That would be stupid and hurt my neck/back”.

My patient’s purse weighed at least 15 lbs. No lie. When I asked her what was in it she said “just the necessary stuff”. I asked her to go home and take everything out of her purse that she has not needed in the last week. I also asked her to buy one of those neat little wallets  that hold a cellphone, credit cards and keys. For most trips out of the house, that is all you need. So she didn’t feel she was going out completely without support, I asked her to take this little wallet out of her bag and take it with her, and just leave her purse in the car. Her necessary stuff will be close by, but she will not be carrying it everywhere she goes.

I have had at least five patients that have improved greatly by getting rid of their handbags. Think about it and then do a little trial on your own. You can also switch to knapsacks (worn as they were made to be worn) or a cross body bag to distribute necessary weight more evenly.

Tell a friend you see lugging a bag around. If it’s not money they are carrying, it’s not worth it.


Is your handbag too heavy? Hi, I'm Dr. John Shim, and I'd like to discuss a very real cause of pain for many of my patients. The ideal weight of a purse is about two pounds. The reality is most handbags weigh an average of five pounds. For many their handbag literally holds the kitchen sink, and as we now live in a technology driven high-paced world - cellphones, purses, digital tablets, prescription, makeups, snacks, and many other things add up. All of us have seen that bag that carries everything, and it comes at a cost to the carrier. There has been scientific studies examining the walking patterns associated with carrying backpacks, handbags, and fanny packs. While it still depends on the individual there are definite changes to the walking pattern, and there is more swaying depending on what you carry. These changes to the walking pattern definitely place more stress on your spine. If you already have issues with your back, maybe you should consider why you need to carry such a heavy bag. Studies of the effects of backpacks on student postures and associated pains have confirmed potential bad effects from over-sized bags on growing children. Studies on the effect of different sized bags, and a use of shoulder straps versus a handle also demonstrates additional loads on the spine in an asymmetric manner. All of these suggests what we already know is to be true. Heavy bags and backpacks can be a source of back pain. More importantly, they can lead to imbalances and weight shifts that can cause structural pains as well as structural changes. No one wants to be told what to do. As a doctor, I know that all too well. As a male member of our species I can confirm that is also my natural default position on almost anything, but we also know that pain and soreness is a great source of feedback. If you're carrying too much and have back pains or hip pains or foot pains - maybe you should listen to your body. It's not telling you what to do. Your body is just telling you it hurts. Please consider the need to carry that kitchen sink. This is Dr. John Shim - exploring why you're carrying so much stuff in your handbag. I hope you'll consider changing your carrying options. Thank you for watching

Last modified: June 19, 2019

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