While not everyone carries a bag, many of us feel the need to bring our worldly possessions everywhere we go. Whether it's a book (or two), makeup, snacks, or a change of clothes, we feel we need these things dangling from our shoulders at all times. And yet, rarely do we think how a heavy purse might damage our back, much less our shoulders or neck.
If this describes your purse carryin' style, toting around fewer things may sound impossible. But trust me when I say there are ways you can get by in life without a proverbial Mary Poppins bag. "We should attempt to diminish the weight by getting smaller and fewer items," says board-certified orthopedic surgeon Barbara Bergin, M.D., in an email to Bustle. "Keep extra clothes, makeup, [and] haircare products at work or in the car." She also says "no" to carrying a big heavy water bottle. "We live in a country where clean, healthy water is everywhere. [It] doesn't need to be in your purse."
Continuing to haul around everything you own can result in all sorts of neck and back issues. "If you regularly carry your purse ... on your right shoulder, you may find that your muscular posture will adapt to that use, leaving you underdeveloped on one side or leaning to your most used hand," says health and wellness expert Gabriel Smith.
A heavy purse can also affect your walking gait and natural arm swing, which can in turn lead to numbness, pain, and nerve soreness, among other issues. Read on for more signs it may be time to lighten your load, for the sake of your health.
1. Your Bags Get Worn Out Quickly
One easy way to tell if you're overloading your bag? Take a look at those busted seems and worn out edges. "Leather hides this better, but manmade materials can show over-use much quicker, so if I think I am 'hurting' my bag I know it is because it is too heavy," health expert and Pilates instructor Alessa Caridi tells Bustle.
2. You've Adopted An Unnatural Way Of Walking
When a bag is too heavy, it can throw off your balance and make you walk in an unhealthy way, which can eventually lead to muscle strains. "Does one foot extend longer to step and the other foot takes a small step? That is one way [your] body may be compensating to stay balanced as to not actually tip over," Caridi says.
3. You've Started Getting Headaches
While headaches can be caused by any number of health issues, one physical cause is a heavy bag. "Forcing muscles to overwork and remain unevenly contracted for prolonged periods of time can cause issues such as headaches," says physical therapist Nicholas M. Licameli, PT, DPT, of Professional Physical Therapy, in an email to Bustle. To prevent weighing down one side of your body, try switching to a backpack.
4. You're Experiencing Numbness And Tingling
In the same way a heavy bag can cause headaches, the extra weight on your shoulder can also lead to neck pain, numbness and tingling in the arms, and even general muscle tension, Licameli tells me. If your bag is causing all these problems, it may be time to rethink what you carry.
5. There's An Indentation In Your Shoulder
If you plop your purse down after a long day, take note of any indentations in your shoulder. As Bergin tells me, any marks in your skin should be a sign your bag is too heavy and likely weighing you down in an unhealthy way.
6. You Struggle To Pick Up Your Bag
This may seem obvious, but you shouldn't have to "heave" your bag onto your shoulder. As chiropractor Jeff Williams, DC tells me, any sign of obvious strain should tip you off. Same goes for any need to lean forward to carry the weight. No heaving or trudging allowed.
7. You Have A Pulling Sensation In Your Back
A purse should always be light enough to easily toss over your shoulder. If not, you might notice a pulling sensation as your muscles begin to overwork. "Overtime, heavy purses pull down on the shoulders causing excessive strain and fatigue to the muscles of the neck and shoulders," Dr. Scott Schreiber tells Bustle. "This will cause a lot of discomfort ... and pain."
8. Your Body Is Tilted
For a quick assessment, pick up your purse and look in the mirror. If it's weighing you down, you'll definitely notice yourself slouching to one side, which can lead to posture problems. As Robert S. Bray, Jr. MD, of DISC Sports & Spine says, "If ... the purse is too heavy [it] will affect the posture and create pain in the neck that radiates into the shoulders and scapula or lower back pain (on the purse side)." Totally not worth it.
9. Your Whole Life Is In Your Bag
Again, I completely understand how tempting it is to carry around makeup, books, water bottles, and a laptop. But having all this on your shoulder is not good. That's why Bergin suggests doing a clean out on the regular, and leaving as much stuff at home as possible. "We tend to keep adding things to our purses without removing them, and the purse gets as heavy as a feed bag," she says. It's a habit worth breaking, for sure.
10. Your Skin Burns And Turns Red
Ever get a burning sensation on your shoulder from your purse rubbing away all day long? As Bergin tells me, this is a definite sign your purse is too heavy. While a slight irritation from a purse strap while wearing a tank top is OK, you don't want to end the day with bright red marks.
11. You're Experiencing Pain
OK, so the basic takeaway here is "pain is bad." As spinal surgeon Dr. Andrew Casden, of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai says, "If someone finds that the longer they carry a purse the more pain they're experiencing, it's time to take it off." Or switch to a backpack. Or leave all those extras at home.
While it's nice to have important things constantly on hand, it's not worth ruining your health in the process. Pay attention to these subtle signs that your purse might be too heavy, and don't be afraid to change up routine if necessary.
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