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How your bag is causing your back pain: specialist physio advice


What is it about carrying a bag that causes back pain?


The three main reasons for bags causing back pain are: carrying a heavier load than you are used to; the type of bag you are carrying; and the way you are carrying the bag


Bag training


The biggest reason that a bag could cause back pain is if it is simply more load than your body is used to. This is because your joints, muscles and other soft tissues will not be strong enough to take the forces exerted on them and the small fibres of which they are made up will break, causing pain. You would not expect to complete a marathon pain free if you didn’t train for it and you should also not expect your body to suddenly cope with a heavy bag if it’s not used to it.

Therefore, the best thing you can do if you need to carry a heavy bag is to ‘train’ for it by incrementally building up the weight of the bag or the time carrying the bag. For example, start with carrying it for 10-15 minutes, then build up by about five minutes every few days. By doing this not only will you reduce your risk of back pain but you will also be building your strength and fitness without even stepping foot in a gym.


Choose your bag wisely:

However, you need to make sure you are carrying the right type of bag.


Back packs


The best type of bag is a backpack because it distributes the weight most evenly through the shoulders, spine and hips. Generally, the sportier the bag the better for you – rucksacks designed for mountaineering or trekking for example – but there are also some very elegant looking rucksacks on the market that are excellent for the posture too, so there is no excuse. If you are carrying a lot of heavy kit, make sure the rucksack has a strap around the hips so that the weight can be distributed here as well as through the shoulders. Then make sure you keep your back straight and if you need to bend forwards make sure it is from the hip joints (this exercise video describes how to bend at the hip joints like a ‘waiters bow.’)


Shopping bags


Bags that are carried in the hands – like shopping bags – are best if there is equal weight in both hands. However, even with equally weighted bags there can be a tendency for the upper back to slump forwards putting strain on the neck, shoulders and upper back. If you focus on keeping the tips of your shoulders up and back, as well as your elbows slightly bent, then this can help to prevent injury by redirecting the forces through the biceps and shoulder blade muscles.


Wheely bags


People often think that bags on wheels will reduce the risk of back pain, but I have seen many people with back pain caused by the twisting and bending that is often associated with these bags. When pulling a wheely bag, try not keep the bag to your side rather than behind you to minimise the amount your body has to twist. Also, keep the shoulders up and back to reduce the strain through the upper back.


Hand bags


Finally, the worst culprit for back pain is the shoulder bag because it causes the spine to bend in one direction and the shoulder to fall forwards on the carrying side. This puts excess stretching and compression forces through the different structures which causes injury. To reduce the chances of back pain keep your shoulders up and back, don’t lean or bend to one side and don’t tilt your head. This exercise video shows correct shoulder posture.


Stretches that will make you go ahhhh!


Here are my top three exercises to relieve back pain caused by carrying a heavy bag, all of them should be pain free, check out the links to watch videos showing you how:

  • Chair twists. Shuffle your bottom to the front of the chair and reach around to hold onto the back of the chair, gently pull feeling the stretch through your mid and upper back, turn the other way and do the same. Repeat ten times.
  • Knee Rolls. Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the floor. Drop your knees to the floor one side and then to the other. Repeat ten times.
  • Foam roller breathing. Lie on a 90cm foam roller with your head on one end and your bottom on the other, your hips and knees bent and your feet on the floor. Take your arms out the sides and turn the palms of your hands to face the ceiling. Breathe gently from your diaphragm (the upper part of your tummy.)



I hope you have found this useful. Please let me know if you would like any more advice at lucy@octopusclinic.com or to book an appointment to treat your pain or injury call 02075838288. 

All the best, 

Lucy Macdonald

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