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Fashion Miscarriage: Is Your Purse Causing You Pain

By Martha Michael

Your Purse and Your Spine

If your taste runs to Coach, Prada or authentic Louis Vuitton, the purse you purchase can break the bank without breaking your back. Take some tips so that on those occasions you follow Katie Holmes and pick up a “Sella” bag you don’t also follow her to the chiropractor.

Your purse should be a source of support, not a source of back pain. The trouble is, on a day when you need your AAA card for car trouble, prescriptions for the pharmacy, snacks for the kids, and necessities for a day-to-evening fashion transformation, your handbag can get pretty loaded.

“Oversize totes carry a serious potential for injury,” says author Alyssa Shaffer in Prevention Magazine. “The combination of the weight of the bag against muscles, tendons, nerves, and ligaments -- plus the compensating shift in posture you make to carry the load -- can lead to headaches, back pain, and body aches. Really push the poundage and you could suffer more serious nerve trauma or degenerative joint disease.”

In a survey conducted by the magazine, a group of 100 women reported that multiple parts of their bodies suffered from a heavily-loaded handbag. Most of them -- 84 percent -- agreed that No. 1 was shoulder pain, followed by 57 percent who experienced symptoms in their necks. Back pain was a close third, with 53 percent, and 20 percent of the women said their arms were negatively impacted by carrying their handbags.

Posturing for Prevention

Shaffer suggests carrying your handbag differently to minimize the possibility of doing damage to your back. Switch sides and change position regularly to limit the chance of tendonitis by using shoulders instead of elbows.

If you’ve ever done Pilates, you’re familiar with engaging your abs and centering your weight over your feet, which is also a good practice. And tighten straps so there’s no room for swing.

Seek treatment for pain and strain. Symptoms like back and neck aches are telling you there’s a problem with some aspect of your lifestyle. A chiropractor can help figure out what that is and offer treatment, when necessary.

For smaller infringements to safe purse carriage, your chiropractor may suggest some alternatives, but if you’ve tweaked your back -- or even incited a flare-up of sciatica -- restorative action may need to be taken. A weighty handbag can cause one or more vertebrae to be restricted, which can be treated with a chiropractic adjustment.

Style as the Source

From Lauren to Laurent, sometimes the greatest burden to your back and neck can come from the style of purse you carry, not just how much is inside it. Avoid the use of bags that put undue stress on your back.

Lindsay Newitter is an instructor at Fordham University and a certified Alexander Technique body movement teacher. She discusses the pros and cons of various purse styles in her blog, “The Posture Police.”

  • Messenger bag - Choosing a “crossbody” purse might be a fashion “do,” but unless you’re careful it can be a posture “don’t.” According to Newitter, you shouldn’t always wear it in the fashionable shoulder-to-hip style. The tendency toward twisting and the work it takes to maintain balance can cause muscle damage. Wear it on one shoulder or place your hand under the bag periodically to add support and lighten the weight.
  • Tote or shopping Bag - Because it’s held further from your center, it can strain the back, neck, shoulders and arms. Without tightening your wrists, try placing more effort on carrying it with your hand, Newitter advises. And a slight bend to the elbow helps distribute the support.
  • Backpack - The good news about a backpack is that weight is distributed evenly across the shoulders. But the bag may be pulling your upper back down or causing you to lift your shoulders up toward the straps. Newitter’s blog suggests cinching the straps tighter, aligning the bag with your middle back and don’t lift your shoulders, which can strain your muscles. And like all good posture police, she reminds you to stand upright, without leaning or jutting out your chin.

Hobo bag, flap cover or satchel -- every woman can choose and make changes. Like the Olympia Dukakis character Clairee in Steel Magnolias says: “The only thing that separates us from the animals is our ability to accessorize.”

Most women know that beauty can be painful, but it doesn’t have to be torture. Consider some adjustments with your handbag while you suffer through the 5-pound earrings and tight jeans. A purse may cost you in dollars and cents -- it shouldn’t make you pay in sweat equity.

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