Big Bag Syndrome – Pocketbooks and the Healthy Spine

Women today often carry a lot of weight on their shoulders. Pocketbooks and shoulder bags are often large and stuffed to the gills. Laptops, water bottles, cosmetics, spare shoes and snacks are just some of the items that overload women’s handbags. What happens  when we shoulder too many burdens in a big bag?

If you are carrying a heavy bag on one shoulder or hand, it may be putting a strain on your neck, back and shoulders. Our bodies were not designed for carrying heavy weights with one arm or shoulder. The burden of the weight is on the top of the shoulder, compressing the spine and throwing us off balance.

Carrying a heavy bag can lead to neck, shoulder or back pain.  Additionally, while the body is developing, and throughout life, carrying a large, asymmetrical load can reinforce structural problems including scoliosis and kyphosis.

This article explores the impact of Big Bag Syndrome and how you can avoid it.

Big bag syndrome can affect your structure in many ways:

  1. One shoulder is elevated to keep the bag from slipping.
  2. The body leans to the side and sometimes forward. You use the weight of your body to counterbalance against the heavy bag. 
  3. The body braces to keep you from tipping over. When you carry an asymmetrical load (either in your hand or over your shoulder) your body braces to stabilize. That means you lean in the opposite direction (away from the load) and the muscles of the back work extra hard to try to compensate and keep you upright. Over time, chronically tightened muscles of the back can shorten and spasm.
  4. Big bag syndrome can take a toll on your structure.  Chronically tight muscles shorten over time. The myofascial span actually shortens and thickens.  
  5. The spine can develop scoliosis (an abnormal lateral curve.) Scoliosis develops while the vertebrae of the spine are growing, during the first 25 years of life. A myofascial shortening of the erector spinae on one side of the back may contribute to scoliosis.
  6. The body loses flexibility and becomes more prone to injury. When the myofascial shortens and thickens, we become less flexible. Loss of flexibility makes us prone to sprains, strains and tendonitis.
  7. Ultimately, both our posture and alignment can suffer. As the body tries to adapt to carrying a one sided load, the compensations become recorded in our structure and make it difficult to maintain a healthy posture.

What can you do to avoid Big Bag Syndrome? 

  1. Keep it light. If you need to carry a hand or shoulder bag, limit the weight to less than 5% of body weight. If you weigh 140 lbs, that means your shoulder or handbag should weigh less than 7 lbs.
  2. Wear the shoulder bag strap across your back to stabilize the load. 
  3. Carry two shoulder bags, one on each side for a more symmetrical load.
  4. Better yet, carry a backpack, which gives you a symmetrical load, assuming you wear it over both shoulders. Limit the backpack weight to less than 10% of body weight.