Handbag syndrome: Is your purse a pain in the neck?
Handbag syndrome

Handbag syndrome: Is your purse a pain in the neck?

I have a fantastic 16″x17″ designer handbag. It’s white pebbled leather, trimmed in a chestnut saddle quality leather strapping with chrome hardware.  It’s pristine, not a scuff mark on it, because I never use it.  It weighs 3.1 pounds. Empty.  Add a wallet, phone, sunglasses, makeup bag and a few other items necessary for my daily existence and it’s heavy enough to set off the seatbelt reminder when placed in the passenger seat of my car.  Don’t laugh, it’s a true story.

Large handbags are a fashion must have but when you fill up that big bag, and we do, and sling it over your shoulder, it’s bound to cause you some pain. Typically, handbag syndrome can cause neck and shoulder strain injuries, poor posture and tension headaches. Left untreated, it can lead to more serious injuries such as herniated discs, accelerated degeneration of the spine and occasionally, injury of the brachial plexus, which can cause numbness in the shoulder and arm.

Carrying a bag on your shoulder has a huge impact on posture and movement.

Large heavy bags depress one shoulder down causing a curve in your mid-back, taking the spine out of alignment. Furthermore, to stop the bag from sliding off, we hike up our shoulder, distorting our posture, overusing and fatiguing the muscles in the area.

Most people tend to carry handbags on their dominant side, this causes the muscles in your dominant shoulder, particularly the trapezius muscle, to work harder. This asymmetric load also causes muscles in your spine to compensate for the weight, which can cause the opposite side of the spine to go into spasm. As a result of this overcompensation, everything below the shoulder will have to work extra hard causing pain in your lower back and sacrum.

Carrying a bag on one shoulder can also significantly interfere with the normal gait. When you put a handbag on one side of the body, it means the arm on that side can’t swing properly and the other arm has to swing more. An even gait is essential to keeping the body balanced.

So, what can we do to reduce the risk of handbag syndrome?

  • First, try to lighten your load.  Experts suggest that your bag should not exceed 10% of your body weight. 5% if you’re carrying it on one shoulder.
  • Avoid long-straps that cause the purse to bump you at the hip, which can affect the way your hips swing when you walk. You want to be able to swing your hips and your shoulders freely.
  • Choose a bag with wider straps or a cross body strap to help distribute the weight over a wider area, putting less direct pressure on the muscles.
  • Alternate shoulders so you’re not always carrying the bag on the same side.
  • Try walking without a bag from time to time, letting both arms and hips swing freely to restore your natural gait.
  • Strengthening the right muscles can make a big difference. Physical therapy combines exercise and education to reduce pain and improve range of motion for muscle imbalances.  Not sure what your muscle imbalances are? Call our office today.  We can help.


Don’t put fashion over body function.  If your bag is big and heavy, and your posture is far from ideal, you might be on your way to an injury.



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