Is Your Large Purse Causing You Pain?

 Beware! If your large purse is too heavy it can cause serious injury resulting in severe pain to your back, neck, shoulder and other parts of your body. The best pain relief is to change what you carry around in your large purse to make it lighter.     Women particularly tend to carry their lives in their bags – laptops, I-pads, phones, makeup, wallets, personal hygiene items, books, documents, water bottles, snacks and the list goes on! We want to be prepared for all events.

Is Your Large Purse Causing You Pain?


The new-age woman loves to carry a large purse but the reality is that big bags result in big heavy loads! But Injuries and pain are caused by carrying a bag that is too heavy.

 The "you'll never know what you need" mindset comes with a price. A hefty large purse can cause serious injury, especially if you do not have upper body strength. Two things act in combination to cause back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, pain in your buttocks, headaches and general body aches all over especially if your upper-body muscles are weak or tight.

  1. The weight of the bag and its contents against muscles, tendons, nerves, and ligaments
  2. The compensating shift in your posture which you make when carrying a heavy load can.  

 If you carry a large purse that is too heavy, you are likely to end up with a sore shoulders, sore neck, sore back, sore arms and pain elsewhere. That is because the muscles in the upper back (trapezius) and neck (cervical paraspinal) become strained from having to support the heavy weight in one position over time.

Initially, the weight puts pressure on the web of nerves that can cause aching or shooting pain from the neck down the arm. Then, every time you toss your bag over your shoulder, the upper back muscles that stabilize the shoulder blade struggle to counterbalance the heavy weight. Eventually, they become overworked and painful.

And the problems don't just affect the upper back.  If you load an extra 10 pounds, for example, onto one side of the body, it can cause the trunk to tilt sideways to compensate, adding lower-back pain to the list of aches and pains.

The pressure on the muscles in the back of the head and shoulders can cause symptoms such as:

  1.  Upper neck, shoulder and back pain
  2. Poor posture
  3. Muscle spasms
  4. Sciatica, including nerve pain in the buttocks and down the legs
  5. Tendinitis of the elbow
  6. Injury to the rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder
  7. Tension headaches
  8. Numbness or tingling in the arms, hands or fingers due to pinched nerves
  9. Lower back pain

 Over time you could suffer more severe nerve trauma or even degenerative joint disease. Long term you can end up with and increased risk of Scoliosis which is  curvature of the spine; Kyphosis or hunchback in women with weak bones; painful osteoarthritis;  or full-blown degenerative joint disease in predisposed shoulders.

Dr. Erickson, a specialist in the subject, explains that the reasons your heavy large purse causes all these nasty symptoms is because:

  1. Your natural gait is thrown off.  Your gait is the way your arms and legs swing when you walk naturally, and it's an important way to keep your body balanced. When you put a heavy handbag on one side of the body, the arm on that side can't swing properly and the other arm has to swing more.
  2. Your muscles are off balance and you develop asymmetry in posture. Since all of the weight of your bag is on one shoulder, you're carrying an asymmetric load, which throws off your posture. Most people tend to carry purses on their side of dominance i.e., if you're right-handed, you'll hang it over your right shoulder. But this causes the muscles in your dominant shoulder, particularly the trapezius muscle, to become larger.
  3.  A heavy asymmetric load causes muscles in your spine to compensate for the weight, which can cause the opposite side of the spine to go into spasm. This overcompensation can also affect your lower back and your sacrum (the bone at the base of the lower spine); the more asymmetric the load, the more everything below the shoulder has to work, and as a result, your muscles become stiff. 
  4.  Carrying that heavy purse can cause the trapezius muscle, which sits on top of your shoulders, to spasm and therefore tighten, along with the muscles that go from your shoulder to the base of your neck causing a lot of stiffness in the upper back, the shoulder area and the neck. It can also cause a decreased curve in the neck, which is known as "military neck."
  5.  People develop arthritis in their neck when it has been enforced to carry a heavy weight for a long period of time. The delicate muscles that help you carry your purse also assist with turning the head, making that action painful.
  6. You get tension headaches from the muscles being forced to do all of this heavy lifting. When the muscles in your shoulder and neck area spasm, it can cause pain in the back of your skull that radiates around to the front.

 Carry your large purse safely

It's not only the size and weight of your large purse that causes problems, but also where and how you carry it that can lead to aches and pains. Avoid injury by making these easy changes.

  1. Alternate your bag from side to side: Carrying a bag on the same side all the time can overwork muscles and permanently affect your posture. To prevent this, switch sides every now and then, e.g. at every corner.
  2. Carry your bag diagonally across your shoulder so your core trunk muscles carry more of the load. Sling your heavy bag across your body, and adjust the strap to minimize swing.
  3. Do not raise your shoulder to prevent the bag from slipping because it will only tighten the muscles on that side. When bags are heavy you tend to scrunch up your shoulder to hold them in place and to stop your bag straps from falling off, That bad posture, over time, will create shoulder, neck, and upper back pain because muscles have to work extra hard.
  4. Do not carry a heavy bag on the crook of your arm can lead to elbow injuries like tendinitis.  Limit strain by carrying two small bags instead of one heavy one or use a backpack.
  5.  Keep a good posture and a strong core. By keeping your abs engaged (like you're buttoning up a tight pair of pants), your weight is centred over your feet.
  6. Firm up with upper body exercises: You are more likely you experience pain is your upper-body muscles are weak or tight. Firm up with stretches and strength moves.
  7. Don't text while carrying your purse. You may develop "military neck" due to the double-duty of texting and looking down that causes the curve in your neck to get lost and get flat. 
  8. Wear sensible footwear. The combination of high heels and heavy bags is a recipe for disaster since heels cause you to tilt your pelvis forward and predispose you to back pain. If a heavy load is thrown into the mix, you have even more of a chance for chronic pain and irritating injury.

 Change the style of bag you carry

If it is essential to carry a lot of items change the type of bag you use. A messenger bag, cross body bag or a backpack spread the load more evenly. If your load is very heavy consider using a trolley bag.

Lifting any weight over 25 lbs has the potential to cause injury, especially if you're moving the object from a position below your knees to above your waist or if holding it in front of your body. If carrying a heavy load, you need to counterbalance to prevent the muscles from becoming overstretched.

Choose the right style of bag for you which incorporates functionality; health and safety together with style and fashion. Some tips to consider:

  1. Select a bag with minimal hardware, a classic which is neat without all sorts of add-ons. Buckles, grommets, belts, and other embellishments add to the weight. A simpler style will naturally lighten your load.
  2. Select a bag with a wider strap to disperse weight evenly. Straps that are at least 2 inches (5 cm) across are good. The thicker the better. A narrow strap concentrates the pressure of the bag on one spot, and can dig into the ligaments at the acromioclavicular joint, where your collar bone meets your shoulder blade causing irritation.
  3. Or select bags with different straps so that you can alternate how you wear them. I.e. one which has handles that you can hold in your hand, as well as longer straps for cross-body wearing to better distribute the weight and give your shoulders intermittent breaks.
  4. Select a bag that has straps that are correct for your body and adjust them so they are set up properly for you.  If the handbag is too short or high up, it's going to affect the way your arm can swing. But if a handbag is too long, it will affect the way your hips swing when you walk. You want to be able to swing your hips and your shoulders freely without being jolted by the bag.
  5. Select a bag made in a lightweight fabric especially if you must have a large purse to carry your belongings. A nylon or cotton fabric is normally much lighter than leather, although butter-soft leathers can be quite light.
  6.  Make certain the bag has various compartments to spread the weight evenly. Without compartments, all your stuff will collect in one spot in the bag, creating a painful load to carry.
  7. Select a smaller sized bag. It's only logical: the bigger the bag the heavier it is and the more unwanted items you lug around.

 Carry less in your large purse

Weigh your bag. If it is over 25 lbs it is too heavy. When full your large purse should not weigh more than 10% of your body weight. I.e. if you’re 90 lbs, your bag plus contents should not be more than 9 lbs.  In truth, some specialists say that the limit should be only 5% of your body weight. Evaluate what you really must take with you and be strict. Here are some tips to help you:

  1. The weight of the bag itself. Different bags can weigh from less than a pound up to several pounds depending on the size, the material and hardware. Bags which weigh 8 to 10 lbs may cause problems. Select a bag which appeals to you but has functionality and safety as well.
  2. A wallet can a pound or more, so  remove unused cards, receipts and put coins in a jar.
  3. Key chains can weigh 2 lbs or more, so remove any keys you don't need and use a lightweight key ring.
  4. Coupons can add up to a pound or more. Toss out all expired coupons and upload current ones to your phone.
  5. Makeup bags can weigh 2-3 pound or more. Only carry items you need to refresh your makeup while you are out.
  6. Personal hygiene items also add weight. Take just what you need but don't be caught short.
  7.  Documents soon add up to be quite hefty.  Be a planner and only carry what you need for the day.
  8. Pens and pencils add weight so  select what you need and store the rest.
  9. Laptops depending on the type can weight several pounds. Choose a light weight model for travel or use your I-pad.
  10. Cell phones and I-pads can weigh several pounds

 Upper body exercises prevent pain

If you have weak muscles in your upper body and core you are more likely to suffer pain when carrying a large purse which is too heavy. Strengthen your muscles with some simple exercises.  Note - if in pain see a doctor before starting these exercises.

  1. Neck Rotation. Slowly circle head to the right, forward, and left; and then do it in reverse. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
  2. Neck Stretch. Stand tall, with the right hand behind head near the left ear. Gently pull down toward right shoulder; hold 10 seconds. Repeat on other side.
  3. Resistance Band Row. Place the left foot on a resistance band and put right foot back, whilst holding one handle with right hand. Slowly draw elbow up toward ribs. Hold for one count, and then lower. Repeat 12 to 15 times then switch sides.
  4. Shoulder Roll. Stand tall with shoulders pressed down. Roll shoulders up, back, down, and forward in a circle 10 times, then repeat in the reverse direction.
  5. Lateral Pull Down. Place centre of resistance band firmly in a closed doorway, and hold one end in each hand. Raise hands above head, and then pull elbows down to sides. Hold for one count, and then raise hands back to start. Repeat  12 to 15 times

 Other things that can help build your upper body strength  are stretching, yoga, pilates, light weights and other forms of exercise which ensure that your shoulders are equally strong and toned. It's also helpful to just try walking without a bag from time to time to restore your natural gait.


I recommend that you totally empty out your large purse and start again. Load up your bag with only your basic needs. Lessen the load and you will be shocked at what an improvement it makes to your general health. Ease the pain by decreasing the weight in your bag and you will avoid shoulder or back pain. If you have already done this but still have numbness or tingling in your hands, a decrease in grip strength, or increasing back pain, seek medical advice. Choose Your Large Purse Safely at The Large Purse Shop 




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