Handbag or purse causing head, neck or shoulder pain?

The Perfect Handbag….(or not)?

The high price tag of that fancy purse or handbag may not be the only “pain” it causes. Your handbag or purse may be causing head, neck or shoulder pain. One of the latest fashion accessory items seems to be those trendy, over sized bags. They are typically called messenger bags for men and called purses for women. The problem with these handbags: they can cause pain, postural problems and muscle tension. The next time you hear someone complain of a pain, ask them: “Is your handbag or purse causing head, neck or shoulder pain?”

Having an over sized bag is fine. The bag in and of itself is not the problem. The problem is usually the content of these bags thus weighing them down and making them heavy. Trouble usually begins with the loading of these big purses with your tablet, keys, money, wallet, shoes, cell phone, water bottle, reading material, gym accessories, make-up, & some stuff for work. The next thing you know, you start carrying the heavy bag everywhere because its filled with “the essentials”.

Handbag or Purse Causing Head, Neck or Shoulder Pain?
Sometimes, the bag really is TOO BIG.

If you seem to have a pain in the head, neck or shoulder that may even radiate down the arm your physical therapist may even ask you: “Is your handbag or purse causing head, neck or shoulder pain?”.

Extra weight from the hand bag may cause problems in at least 2 WAYS:

  1. The weight can put tension on the brachial plexus which is an intricate network of nerves that start at you neck and ends up at your finger tips. Tension or stretching of these structures that can contribute to aching or shooting pain from the neck down to various parts of the arm. It may only radiate to the elbow, or, it may radiate to the wrist or fingertips.
  2. Each time you throw this heavy bag up and over your shoulder, the muscles which stabilize the scapula (shoulder blade) struggle to counterbalance that weight; the upper back musculature will sometimes get overworked until a small every day type action such as putting your shirt on or putting the dishes away in an upper cabinet causes some pain in the upper back or shoulder blade area.

Think about it like this: just an extra 10 pounds from the handbag (and its contents) placed on one shoulder can cause the body to tilt sideways to compensate. This compensation will stress not only the upper back and shoulder blade area, but is likely at some point to contribute to low back pain too.

Is Your Handbag or Purse Causing Head, Neck or Shoulder Pain?

At Back In Motion Sarasota Physical Therapy, we aim to empower you with education. Listed below are 5 easy tips that will promote injury prevention:

1. Address Your Posture

Handbag or Purse Causing Head, Neck or Shoulder Pain?
The wrong handbag and poor posture go hand-in-hand.

– This is priority #1 for many. The perfect posture consists of relaxed shoulders, back upright and no sideways leaning. Read this for more information on how to improve your posture and the importance of posture: How To Improve Your Posture

2. Improve Your Strength

– Very frequently I see “tight” internal rotators and “weak” scapular stabilizing muscles. Addressing the correct musculature makes all the difference. This is what we do as physical therapists at Back In Motion Sarasota Physical Therapy.

3. Use the Strap

– Whenever possible, you are going to want to use the shoulder strap to run diagonally across the chest. This will minimize the chances of hiking the shoulder up on one side. You are going to want to alternate sides so you’re not always using the same shoulder.

4. Change It Up

– Use different purses and handbags. Do not use the same bag every day. When you switch bags, try to lighten the load and put only what you need in it.

5. Do Not Ignore the Problem

– Do you have a big and/or heavy bag? Do you feel as though your posture may need some work? If you answered “yes” then you may be susceptible to shoulder pain, neck pain, headaches, & shooting arm pain. It’s important to call Back In Motion Sarasota Physical Therapy at (941)925-2700 if you have a problem, it persists greater than 48 hours and does not respond to conservative treatment of ice and rest. We can fix your problem, it’s what we do, and we are good at it.

The Ideal Bag

At Back In Motion Sarasota Physical Therapy, we suggest that your handbag weigh less than 10 percent of your body weight. For example: if your weight 150 pounds, your handbag should weigh less than 15 pounds. When the purse it too big and the weighs too much, people tend to exhibit a forward head posturing (the head should stay over your shoulders). This can eventually cause headaches, neck tension, low back pain, upper back pain and shoulder pain. Here are some tips when trying to find the ideal bag.

  • Strap length – if the straps are too long it can cause problems. The purse may bump your hip as you step or the purse strap may crawl down or out from the shoulder which may contribute to a shoulder “hike” and increased muscle tension and abnormal posturing. We do like the strap to be long enough to be used diagonally across the shoulders though.
    • Criteria for short handled bags:
      • they should be over the shoulder, tucked under your arm, OR
      • they should be over the forearm, or held in your hand.
  • Try to stay away from bigger “over sized” bags unless you are following the guidelines set forth above. The temptation is great to make them too heavy.
  • Keep your handbag organized. The less digging, being hunched over and twisting the better!!

There you have it. The little things in life are important. Is your handbag or purse causing head, neck or shoulder pain? The experts at Back In Motion Sarasota Physical Therapy will be able to tell you. We can balance the muscles which are causing the problem, but just as importantly will get to the “root of the problem” and find out what has contributed to the problem in the first place. As always, no physician prescription needed to attend Physical Therapy at Back In Motion Sarasota Physical Therapy (the state of Florida is a “direct access” state). We are a preferred provider to perform physical therapy for Medicare in Sarasota, Florida.

Do not delay, the longer you put if off the more serious your problem may become. Some conditions may not “just get better on their own”.

Call Us Now to Help Solve Your “Purse Problem”!

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-Edited by Becca Chamberlain, LMT, RYT

About the Author Tim Burnell, PT

Tim Burnell is the Lead Physical Therapist at Back In Motion Sarasota. He has over two decades of clinical experience. He takes pride in getting to the root of the problem which helps get his clients better...Faster! He is a family man & enjoys spending time with the love of his life, Monique. He has 2 children & a dog named Annie. Tim's son, Andre' is 11 years old and his daughter Joliebelle (nicknamed Pooky) is 7 years old. He enjoys visiting his wife's side of the family in New Orleans and his side of the family in Vermont. Tim grew up in Vermont, went to Physical Therapy School in Alabama, got his first job at Tulane Hospital in New Orleans and moved to Sarasota Florida after Hurricane Katrina in 2006.

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