Heavy handbags can hurt women’s back, neck - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

Heavy handbags can hurt women’s back, neck

September 5th, 2018 SanTan Sun News
Heavy handbags can hurt women’s back, neck

By Colleen Sparks, Managing Editor

Large handbags that can hold lunch, laptops, makeup and anything else women might need during a busy day might be a big trend but they can cause major problems for backs, necks and shoulders.

So says Dr. Penny Bowen, a musculoskeletal radiologist at EVDI Medical Imaging, which has locations in Chandler, Tempe, Gilbert and Mesa.

As the physician site manager at the Chandler office, Bowen reviews MRIs, magnetic resonance imaging or detailed images of the inside of patients’ bodies that can be used to help diagnose or monitor treatments for various conditions.

Bowen interprets the MRIs and gives reports to the patients’ doctors. The Chandler EVDI Medical Imaging office is at 1076 W. Chandler Blvd.

“The main problem is with these fashionable oversize purses it really makes it easy for you to over pack that bag,” Bowen said. “Most experts feel a bag greater than 10 pounds really is causing the problems. The idea is that carrying a heavy load on one side of your body can lead to pain in your shoulders and neck as well as spasms.”

She said a bag’s strap fits in a “sensitive area” and can cause traction or stretching of the nerves.

“The nerves are like little strings,” Bowen said. “Pull on them constantly, it can cause nerve damage to the shoulder, back, neck.”

The traction of the nerve might cause “numbness or tingling” in fingers or a change in someone’s natural sense of gravity, she said.

“You can develop hip pain or core muscle pain on your purse side and on your opposite side the neck gets strained; it’s working extra hard on the non-purse side to keep things straight,” Bowen said. “It interferes with your normal gait. This unbalanced load can really contribute to mechanical falls.”

She said the most common issue from carrying handbags that are too heavy “would be worsening of arthritis in the neck and shoulder as a long-term consequence.”

Back, neck and shoulder issues, as well as tingling in hands can also occur from lugging around handbags that weigh too much, Bowen said.

If the symptoms keep occurring, people can experience residual nerve damage, she said. Degenerative disc disease is the “process of the disc narrowing and softening and losing normal hydration,” she said.

“You can accelerate degenerative disc disease or a ruptured disc,” Bowen said. “That can be in your neck, your mid-back, lower back.”

People suffering from the disc problems often get anti-inflammatory medicine and they might need physical therapy, steroid injections and a shoulder replacement.

When someone has an “unbalanced load,” including carrying a purse that is too heavy or doing asymmetric exercise like painting frequently, they can suffer problems in their backs. They may need to use cold and heat therapy or take anti-inflammatory medicine, muscle relaxers or narcotic pain medication to deal with the pain – or even require surgery.

Bowen said people can do many things to avoid hurting themselves when carrying handbags.

“Lighten the load, clean out your purse regularly,” she said. “Take out those unneeded items. I really don’t need to tote around individual servings of apple juice,” added the mother of three children.

Leaving the handbag in the car is another way to alleviate problems.

Bowen also encouraged people to “take a break when they can.” For example, they can put their purse in their shopping cart while grocery shopping.

She also advised people to get a purse with a strap at least two inches wide in order to help disperse the weight of the purse better.

Even better, people can choose a backpack-style purse with two straps on both sides of their body to “even out weight,” Bowen said. A cross-body bag can help spread out the weight in a healthier way, too.

Alternating which strap people carry their purse on is another way to help their bodies. Bowen also urged people to keep their purse under 10 pounds.

Women can also even out the weight by putting something on the other shoulder. For instance, if they are carrying a purse on one side, they can carry a tote bag on the other shoulder.

Bowen recommends women bend at their knees and hips when picking up their purses and not using their back as a “fulcrum to pick” it up.