Whether you carry your everyday essentials to the office in a backpack, tote, or purse, workbags are often the source of back, neck, and shoulder pain. In fact, the American Chiropractic Association finds that half of working Americans admit to having back pain symptoms every year, and lower back pain is one of the most common reasons for missed work.
All that pain probably didn’t just start with your first day of work. The correlation between heavy bags and back pain could date back to childhood. A study from 2013 found that the average backpack weight for a group of children in the UK, was 15 to 20 percent of their body weight. No matter your age, experts recommend carrying a bag weighing less than 10 to 15 percent of one’s body weight.
So what does carrying a heavy bag mean for your back, neck, and shoulders? The same study looking at kids shows over time heavy bags can lead to muscle imbalance and spine curvature, which ultimately results in severe neck and lower back strain. Keep going into adulthood and you could be looking at much worse—lower back pain causes more disability than any other condition globally, according to the Global Burden of Disease. Luckily, it’s possible to avoid the inevitable pitfalls of a heavy workbag.
5 Ways to Avoid Back Pain from Your Workbag
Consider the weight. Carry a bag that weighs less than 10 percent of your body weight. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, your bag and it’s contents should be less than 15 pounds—total!
Distribute weight evenly. Consider using a backpack with both straps, instead of a tote back. When carrying a purse or shoulder bag, it’s a good idea to switch arms every block or two in order to help keep your body even, and prevent back, neck, and shoulder strain.
Clean out your bag often. Whether you’re using the same bag daily or alternating bags, it’s easy to overload it with no-longer-needed items. Try to go through your workbag at least once a month to remove unnecessary stuff on the regular.
Put the phone away. As tempting as it can be to talk or text on the phone while walking to work, it can actually add to the problem. Looking down at your phone adds weight to the upper body, pulling your vertebrae out of position and adding extra strain on your spine.
Use multiple bags. Along with laptops and notebooks, many workers carry lunch, snacks, gym clothes, and more to the office daily. Instead of trying to shove everything into a single bag, divvy up the load into two bags and evenly distribute the weight to both sides of your body.
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This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.