Are Your Handbag Habits Sabotaging your Health? Some thoughts…

What is in your handbag today? Just count the items you have stashed and you may be surprised; I was! Did you know that the average woman carries more than 20 items in her handbag and lugs between five and seven pounds over her shoulder every day.  On any one occasion that additional weight is no big deal but the everyday strain really adds up.   With recent trends to oversize handbags, there has been an increase in the frequency of “handbag syndrome”, the word used to describe the pain related to carrying an unbalanced, oversized load on the shoulder.

What’s the big deal? When we carry a heavy handbag, one side of the body bears the weight causing an imbalance in posture and compression of the muscles and nerves in the shoulder and neck.  There is a pull on the nerve roots of the side the weight is carried on and compression on the opposite side as the head tilts to counterbalance the weight. Early signs of overuse may be tight and inflamed muscles, pain in the shoulder and back, and tingling along the arm and into the hands. The cumulative effect of the repetitive strain can cause injury to the nerves, loss of strength, fine motor problems, frozen shoulder and arthritis. Definitely not a pretty thought!

To most women a handbag performs many functions: fashion statement, accessory, carry-all, office, medicine cabinet, supplies for the kids and of course it carries the Smartphone.  For a successful entrepreneur, juggling the demands of business with personal life there may be an even greater requirement to transport stuff, as we need the laptop, iPad, and paperwork necessary to do the job. We can’t compromise on the work but we can make intelligent choices about the way we transport it.

Unload the bag
I mean that literally.  Do you really need the address book, the camera and the Smartphone? Is there a better way to carry the hairspray and the curling iron? After you’ve culled your handbag, and find you still have too much stuff, consider carrying two bags. It is easier on the body to carry two evenly balanced loads, one in each hand than one over-loaded tote. If your work-related materials are really heavy, a good option is a roller bag.

Purchase carefully
A handbag can weigh 1.5 kg on its own! Look for one made of light materials such as soft leather, vinyl and nylon. Hardware really adds weight; so avoid it if possible.   Check for bags with compartments; they not only keep your bag organized, they help balance the load and reduce the strain on the body.  Find a bag that goes across the body and change sides frequently.   Handbags with wide or padded straps help distribute the weight across the shoulder more evenly.  A back pack is a great choice if it suits your lifestyle.

Build a wardrobe of handbags for specific purposes and change often.  At the minimum you will need a work tote, a shoulder bag for everyday use including shopping, a small cross-body bag to slip in to your work tote and a small handbag or clutch for social functions.

Pack Mindfully
Plan your day and pack your handbags accordingly.  Keep as much of the non-essential stuff in the car as possible (children’s snacks, books, umbrella etc). Carry the essentials.

When attending events outside your workplace, it helps to slip a mini-cross body bag inside your larger tote. The one I use is lightweight; at 5” x 5” it holds a credit card, a twenty-dollar bill, lipstick, smart phone and business cards. It tucks into the work-a-day tote at the conference table and goes across the body to mingle.  With good compartment design, business cards are easy to access for networking and that works perfectly!

Stretch out Your Shoulders
The neck and shoulders bear a lot of the burden of our lives. It is important to keep them flexible and mobile. A heavy handbag throws your posture out of whack, distorts the way the body bears that weight and puts pressure on the delicate network of nerves that reside in your neck and shoulder.

To counteract that strain in the shoulders, click the link below to learn an important remedial exercise, the Shoulder Shrug, which is part of an Egoscue exercise program. This exercise works to counteract the postural imbalance caused by carrying a heavy handbag.  Do this exercise ten times daily to help keep your upper body mobile.

If your neck and shoulders continue to feel tight, numb, give the sensation of pain, or you feel pain radiating down your arms to your hands, schedule an appointment with a trusted health professional. It is important to listen to your body and seek help before annoying symptoms become sites of chronic pain.

“Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” Jim Rohn

Clare-Barry-HeadshotClare is co-owner and manager of Avalon Laser Health, a multidisciplinary health clinic that specializes in the treatment of physical injuries with low-intensity laser therapy in a collaborative wellness environment.  Our team of physiotherapy, chiropractic, massage therapy, acupuncture and homeopathic professionals blend cutting-edge therapy with time-tested practices to treat the whole body and optimize treatment results.  To learn more, visit them online at, like them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, or check out Clare on LinkedIn.


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