Is my handbag a cause of my pain?

Sep 3 2018

We are all guilty of carrying around a handbag that’s too heavy for us because, well, what would we do without all of that stuff? Our purses and bags are where we keep our ‘must-haves’: our laptops, books, wallets, snacks, makeup kits… the list goes on. We ask physiotherapist, Tanvi, what damage our heavy handbags could really be doing to our backs.

Carrying a heavy handbag has consequences

Like all things affecting our health, such as poor diet, lack of exercise and poor posture, carrying a hefty handbag is not without its consequences.

When you carry a big bag on your shoulder, your gait and posture are automatically altered, as you either lift your shoulder and/or lean over to the other side. Plus, most of us become accustomed to carrying our handbags on one side only. A combination of these factors results in increased strain on your spine and muscles, which can lead to pain in your neck, shoulders, back, arms and even headaches. In some cases, you could also exacerbate pre-existing disc problems.

Quite simply, you are forcing your muscles to help with supporting all that load.

Recent studies have shown that around one in three of us are carrying from six to ten pounds (up to 4.5 kilos) of ‘necessities’ in our handbags. That’s like lugging around a fully-grown cat in your bag every day. Ideally, we should not be carrying more than 10% of our total body weight.

So, what can be done to save our backs?

Be mindful of your posture

Switch to a bag that’s as small as possible. Stand in front of a mirror and notice how your neck and shoulders are aligned when carrying your handbag. If you are struggling to keep your neck and back upright and your shoulder has dropped or lifted unnaturally, then that’s a concern.

Don’t forget that a stronger core will help you to have a great posture. It can also play a part in preventing back problems. Make sure your workout routine involves core strength exercises and that you stretch your neck and back muscles throughout the day. This is essential for those with a desk job.

Get rid of the stuff that you don’t need

As difficult as it may be to hear, we don’t really need everything that we throw inside our handbags. Try to organise your bag at least once a week and only carry what’s required. Decreasing that weight will help to prevent your muscles and spine from developing any strain, hopefully enabling you to avoid developing any long-term consequences.

Choose comfort over style

Ergonomically speaking, a backpack is the best solution, as it distributes the weight evenly when worn correctly. As a second option, opt for a small handbag with firm grips. Avoid bags with chains or thin straps, as they will dig into your shoulder and cause more discomfort.

But what about all the ‘just in case’ items in my handbag?

Well, there is a third option. You can carry two bags and distribute the weight across both of your shoulders. This works well if you like to carry your favourite book to read while commuting, must carry your laptop with you every day and want to go to the gym after work. That’s a lot of burden on one shoulder, so why not spread out the weight and spare your poor back from all that unnecessary strain.

Most importantly, if you’re continuing to experience stiffness and pain or if your symptoms get worse, seek professional help by visiting your physiotherapist, who can thoroughly assess you and help you to manage your pain and prevent further injury.


If you’re in need of some support, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch. Click here to find your nearest Bodyset clinic, where our expert team of clinicians are ready to help you with a personalised treatment programme. Any questions? Contact our friendly client care team by calling 033 0333 0435.