Why big purses and high fashion may be causing your back and neck problems

Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 3.33.12 PMGo ahead and take out your bathroom scale. But instead of stepping on it yourself, we’re going to do something different today. Fetch the purse or handbag that you carried to work or out to do errands with you yesterday and put it on the scale. How much does it weigh? 8 pounds? Ten? Fifteen?

The reality is that purses and bags women are carrying around these days are bigger – and heavier – than ever, and that’s causing some huge health problems. Chiropractors and doctors even have a name for this serious health issue – The Pocketbook Effect.

The weight of just a purse might seem inconsequential, but consider that you carry it and hold it sometimes an hour or more every day while walking or standing. It’s no wonder that half od working Americans report having back pain, which we spend $50 billion collectively to treat and try to remedy each year. In fact, the number one disabler of people 45 and younger in the U.S. is lower back pain!

Why your purse is hurting you

What happens when you carry a purse? With all of the weight unevenly distributed on only one strap, the burden of the purse causes asymmetry in the body, particularly in the neck, shoulders, and spine.

Independent studies that surveyed 1,000 women who regularly carried purses found that a significant percentage suffered pain or health problems in these areas:

84% Shoulders

57% Neck

53% Back

20% Arms

What happens to the body when we carry a purse?

It’s not just bearing the weight of a purse that is debilitating; it’s the alteration to your natural walking gait. When you shoulder a purse on one side, it throws off your natural walk with arms and legs swinging fluidly and evenly. 

Over time, that puts your muscles at a severe imbalance, altering your posture. This puts more stress on the dominant shoulder (women tend to carry bags on their dominant shoulder, so on the right side if they are right-handed), causing the muscles – particularly the trapezius muscle – to become bigger.

It also causes the muscles in the spine to compensate for the extra weight, which often sends the opposite side of the spine into a spasm. That spasm can affect your supporting muscles and especially your lower back and sacrum (bone at the base of the spin,) causing stiffness and undue tension.

The long-term burden of carrying a heavy purse:

Due to that tension, stress, and spasm, women who carry heavy and/or ill-fitting purses or handbags often develop:

Arthritis in the neck

Tension headaches

Scoliosis (curvature of the spine)

Kyphosis (hunchback)

Painful osteoarthritis

Full-blown degenerative joint disease in predisposed shoulders

Upper-back (trapezius) and neck (cervical paraspinals) muscles strain

Numbness and tingling in the arm from nerve microtrauma

What you can do to fix the Pocketbook Effect:

Switch shoulders periodically to avoid undue strain on your dominant side and balance the effects. You can remind yourself by switching every block or some similar system.

Pull a bag on wheels if you can’t avoid significant weight or you’re using it for work, travel, or the gym.

Texting or looking down at your phone while carrying your purse really compounds the damage, flattening out the natural curve in your neck.

Look for bags with wider straps, which distributes the weight over a larger surface area and reduces strain exponentially.

Wearing the bag diagonally (the strap resting on the opposite shoulder and the bag on the hip) helps the trunk bare most of the weight and protects the back.

Try not to carry your bag in the crook of your elbow because this will quickly cause tendinitis.

Make sure the straps of the purse fit your body correctly. If the bag sits too high up or too low, it will alter how you walk, bumping in your hips or stomach as it swings, and take you even more out of your natural gait.

Even better, try to use bags that have different strap options that let you hold it on your shoulder, adjust it for cross-body carrying, or hold it by the handles.

Reducing the weight of your purse:

Health professionals recommend never carrying around more than 10 percent of your body weight, and less than half of that for one-strap purses or bags.

According to studies, these are the biggest and heaviest items in women’s purses:

The cumbersome wallet.

Women often carry a wallet inside their purse, filled with heavy coins and way too many credit cards, gift cards, receipts, etc. Believe it or not that weight can really add up, so empty it out every night and take only what your really need for the day in a small wallet.

Huge key chains.

Unless you’re a janitor, you probably don’t need to carry an enormous snakes nest of a key chain. All of that metal starts to add on weight so go lighter and make two or three key chains that you can grab for different occasions.

Coupons, receipts, and business cards.

But aren’t these things just paper? They are, but that’s why we underestimate them when stacking them into our purse. Have you ever carried around a book? Those are made of paper, too, and they can get pretty heavy!


All of those plastic, glass and metal bottles, tubes, containers take up a ton of space and can easily add up to several pounds.

The purse!

Some high-fashion purses and bags are ridiculously huge and cumbersome these days, especially designer brands with weighty zippers, studs, and the like. Of course you want to look good, but is insignificant fashion really worth long-term health damage and injuries? I’m sure you can find a purse that is light, comfortable and functional – and looks good.