As Spinal Awareness Week approaches, chiropractors in the United Chiropractic Association are working to educate the community in how we can all take better care of our spines. A big focus within this work is to better understand how the spine and nervous system work when at their optimum, and how to prevent injury and chronic problems as a result of daily activities we all do.
In particular, the type and way we carry bags can be a concern. In modern times, expectations for what we must carry with us daily have changed, and people of all ages are carrying more than ever before. This can have a very negative effect on the spine and nervous system, impacting overall health. Chronic pain in the neck and shoulders has become far more common, particularly alongside our increased habit of hunching over a screen. In the effort of promoting awareness on this front, here are steps to help ensure your daily bag is not causing spinal strain or damage.
ASSESS WHAT YOU CARRY
What do you really need to carry with you? Start by sorting through your current daily bag. It’s easy to accumulate extras. Make it a periodic task to review and sort items from your bag to ensure you are not carrying extra books, rubbish, or anything else that may be adding weight to your spine. If you’re selecting a new bag, ensure that you are only selecting the size and distribution that you really require for essential items.
CHOOSE A BAG THAT’S APPROPRIATE FOR YOU
If you’ve had concerns with pain in the past, be aware of this before purchasing or selecting a new bag. Bags worn only on one side of the body, for instance, can cause an imbalance and will require you to alternate arms when using it in order to avoid one “drop-shoulder”, where one shoulder falls lower than the other. If this is not practical for any reason, consider another type of bag.
Choose a bag that is made from lightweight materials, like vinyl or canvas, which are lighter than leather. Ensure you select a bag that contains multiple pockets where items can be distributed, rather than a tote or similar, which is one big pocket. Adjustable shoulder straps, the wider the better, are also very helpful. Any additional padding to the straps will also assist you when carrying for long periods.
Many have begun to opt for wheeled mini-bags, which does ensure you only need to push the bag and place less strain on the back. Select one with a handle long enough to prevent stooping or bending over.
A backpack is the best option to look after your back if you must carry a bag daily, as two straps allows you to distribute weight evenly across the shoulders. Ensure that you select supportive, wide straps, and take care that the backpack sits higher up and close to the back itself.
Also be aware of selecting a bag that is proportional in size to your body – it may seem useful to select something larger, but this will affect your posture and ultimately your spine.
PACK YOUR BAG CONSIDERATELY
Once you have taken the time to assess what you really must bring with you, ensure that this does not weigh more than 10-15% of your total body weight. This is the maximum to determine whether the weight you are carrying is ideal for your body type.
Distribute heavier items at the base of the bag as much as possible. If you are not able to pack lightly for some reason, try to use more than one bag to better distribute the weight.
KNOW THE CORRECT WAY TO CARRY YOUR BAG
Whether it’s a sports bag, rucksack, purse or handbag, it is important to know how to load, lift and wear your bag to prevent injury or strain to the spine.
Carrying a heavy load unevenly or improperly distributed can cause postural imbalances, spinal misalignments (vertebral subluxation), muscle strain, nerve damage, headaches and back, neck or arm pain. A good example is using a particularly heavy bag only on one shoulder, which causes muscles and the spine to compensate for the unevenness of the weight. Remember to alternative one-shoulder bags to even out the distribution.
A sports bag, cross-body bag or similar can easily become over weighted, however the long strap can sit across the shoulders, which will help to balance the weight. Ensure your bag strap sits on the opposite shoulder to the side where you are carrying the bag itself.
A small clutch can be a good choice as it sits close to the body. It’s also hard to overload. Smaller bags are ideal in this sense, and a long single strap can make up for not having two straps to distribute weight.
Backpacks are ideal if you remember to use both straps, and ensure the bag sits above the waist to reduce any pressure on the spine and nervous system.
OTHER THINGS TO CONSIDER
There are several other factors to consider to avoid straining the spine or muscles with a bag. This includes being aware of how you lift any heavy item – while it is not encouraged to fill a bag with too much weight, if you do for some reason have to carry a very heavy item, you must be aware of how you lift this item. Twisting the spine, lifting improperly from the ground, or lifting an item overhead in a careless manner are common causes of low back strain.
Also consider your general posture. Poor posture, weak abdominal or back muscles can make us more susceptible to injury. Sloughing or hunching may add strain. Similarly, tight hamstring muscles place added strain on the lower back over time. Take care of the overall body and stretch regularly to help alleviate any tension caused by daily, repetitive movements or strain.
If you are interested in finding out more information on how you can improve your overall spinal health, posture and general wellbeing, please contact your local United Chiropractic Association Chiropractor for more advice or an assessment.