Whether it's a handbag (or pocketbook or purse), a tote or a backpack, lugging around the wrong bag all day can hurt your health. Too heavy or carried incorrectly, it can cause pain to your head, neck or shoulders. Too much time on the floor, and it might pick up germs that can make you sick. Read on for the most common unhealthy habits of bag-carrying.
1. Carry a Heavy Bag on One Side
A bag should weigh no more than 10 percent of your body weight, according to the American Chiropractic Association. Lugging more than that on one side of your body can lead to back and shoulder pain.
Heavy bags can even cause headaches, says Karen Erickson, DC, a chiropractor in New York City and spokeswoman for the American Chiropractic Association. "People come in thinking they have migraines and it's actually a bad bag," she says. Too much pressure on the trapezius muscle in the shoulder, which goes up the back of the neck to the skull, Dr. Erickson explains, can cause severe muscular tension headaches.
You'll want to switch sides every block or two that you walk, says Erickson. "Most of us have a side and we do it for 20 years, 30 years and the reason is that it's comfortable," she says. But it helps to get in the habit of switching sides.
2. Picking a Bag With Thin Straps
Thin-strapped bags, especially ones that are too heavy, can cut into the shoulder muscle, causing pain. Metal straps can worsen that pain. Thicker straps better distribute the weight.
"I recommend if someone is out and about for the day with a bag, and your shoulder ends up hurting, pull it in front of you like a baby so you get it off your shoulders for a while," says Erickson.
3. Wearing a Backpack Too Low
If you decide to wear a backpack in order to evenly distribute the weight, be sure you're wearing it properly. To start, use both backpack straps instead of sliding it onto one shoulder. Also make sure the backpack doesn't hang too low down your back. Ideally it should be at the bottom of the rib cage, Erickson says, not by your waist bone.
4. Putting Your Bag on the Floor
This is a big one. Bags travel just as much as we do — from the bedroom to the car (or the train), then the office or the grocery store, then a restaurant or bar, even a public bathroom, then back home to the kitchen counter. You get the idea. Beyond making your bag look dirty faster, placing it on the floor can collect bacteria, like staph and E. coli, which can cause infection. Avoid putting your bag in these places and wipe it down daily.
5. Carrying the Same Catch-All Bag (or Water) Everywhere
Avoid hauling the same big bag everywhere you go. Getting the habit of doing so, and you'll only keep adding to its bulk as the days pass. Keep a separate bag for the gym, or for extra shoes, instead of loading it all up inside one massive tote.
Some extra tips: "I tell people not carry water in their bag," says Erickson. "Water is really heavy, and the other thing I'd recommend is to empty out coins every evening. It all adds up."
What to Look for When Buying a Bag
Is your bag hurting your back? Follow these tips to be practical, but not boring, when buying a handbag.
Consider the heaviness of the bag itself. Some bags these days are outfitted with heavy hardware, like metal chains and buckles. Leather also adds weight to a bag. "They are heavy without anything in them," says Erickson. Feel how much the bag weighs when it's empty to gauge how much it will weigh with everything you carry on a daily basis.
Look for the right strap or handle. Erickson suggests jumping on the trend of handbags with small, briefcase-style handles that you hold in your hand instead of sliding onto your shoulder. Messenger bags are also good at distributing weight.
Make sure the bag fits. Believe it or not, some bags might not fit you the right way. "Get the height of the bag to match your sweet spot," says Erickson. "If it's too short you can't swing your arms, and if it's too long it messes up your gait. The bag should hit right around your waist."
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