Your bag is easily your hardest-working accessory. It's your mobile office, gym locker, pantry, medicine cabinet, ATM—and it makes a fashion statement to boot. Sadly, it can also be an actual health hazard if you're not careful.
"Women usually know they shouldn't be carrying such heavy bags, but they don't think about it until they develop some kind of pain," says Jeffrey Goldstein, M.D., a clinical professor of orthopedic surgery at New York University Langone Medical Center. "It's an aha moment when I point it out."
Lori Polin, an attorney in Huntington, NY, got her wake-up call as a stiff neck and shooting pain down her spine and arms. Years of lugging around legal papers in her bag had resulted in bone spurs along her vertebrae, which required surgery. "I had to sport a neck brace for eight months afterward—not fun," Polin says. Now she uses Dropbox for storing records digitally and leaves her makeup bag in the car.
Is your purse doing a number on your spine? Check out the most common bag mistakes and unload a little.More
"When a patient comes in complaining of headaches and I feel tightness in her shoulders, neck, and jaw, one of the first things I do is pick up her handbag," says Karen Erickson, D.C., a New York–based chiropractor. "She'll instinctively look like she's been caught."
Which Leads To: Neck and shoulder pain on the side where you carry your bag, plus back, knee, and hip problems as your body works to balance itself.
Solution: Stick your bag on a scale. A filled purse should be no more than 5% of your body weight—that translates to 8 pounds for the average 166-pound woman, Erickson says. With a backpack, you're safe up to 10% (16 pounds for the same woman).
Try It: A backpack. It distributes the weight of the load evenly between both your shoulders. We love this lightweight embossed-neoprene one with leather accents for a posh, sporty look. Elliott Lucca Olvera Metro Backpack ($198, elliottlucca.com). Adjust straps so the bottom of your knapsack lines up with the bottom of your ribs.
"If you see a groove on your shoulder when you remove your bag, it's a red flag that the straps are too thin," Erickson says. "I've even had patients with permanent indentations."
Which Leads To: Muscle spasms from the lack of blood flow to that area, Erickson says. And next: major ouches. "The thin straps cause your shoulder muscles to contract for a long period of time. That can make you sore," Erickson says.
Solution: Choose a bag with straps that are at least an inch wide to better disperse the weight across your shoulder. Also avoid thin metal or chain straps, which dig into your muscles even more.
Try It: A tote with strap options. Switching the way you carry it prevents overloading any part of your body. Metal = heavy, so go for minimal hardware, like this spare beauty. Made of polyurethane "vegan leather," this neutral-shade number is lighter than the real thing—and much cheaper (without looking it). DB Fashion Studio Mauve Satchel ($55, dressbarn.com).