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When life gets hectic, you can measure stress pound for pound by the weight of your handbag. Women multi-tasking their way through extremely busy lives can accumulate a shocking amount of daily debris in their handbags. Chiropractors and doctors warn that carrying any more than 5 lbs in a handbag can have bad effects on your health.

This problem is getting worse as now, added to the usual mess of papers, letters, and receipts, are all the essential electronic devices – everything from mobile phones, tablets, to laptops, and all the accompanying chargers as well. These heavy devices get lugged around on a daily basis. If you also carry your fur baby, water bottles, makeup and keys, the accumulative weight can lead to a very heavy bag, and possible health problems in the future. For many, the result of carrying too much in their handbag has been back pain. Even though the trend for alarmingly large, Mary Poppins style handbags has all but passed, the various designs of handbags in fashion are hiding their potential to cause just as many aches and pains.

relaxing at a coffee shop

Studies have shown how extended periods carrying different types of bags can strain the body in different ways. A study of college women in the Journal of Human Kinetics, measured the effect of different types of handbags and showed that heavy loads in bags, especially those carried on one side, caused measurable changes in how our muscle work when we carry our handbags. They found that different styles of purses change the way we walk, and in turn can cause muscular, skeletal, and postural issues. The study concludes that:

“…bag type and carrying method have been shown to significantly affect muscle activity and posture… This increased muscle activity has been linked with increased back pain and injury

In addition, other research has shown that this negative effect is consistent regardless of your age, so any woman (or man) carrying a bag needs to be aware of how their bag might affect their body, especially over time. The long-term effects of using your handbag in the wrong way are pretty terrible. It can lead to chronic issues with the muscles and bones in your back, neck and shoulders. It can also increase your chance of having arthritis when you’re older!

guide to buying your first bag

Despite the drawbacks, many would never sacrifice looking good. Luckily, you don’t have to, because light bags are ok, even though heavy handbags have been shown to hurt your back. You can change your life, just by making your bag’s load a little lighter. The other option is to try out some of the more ‘body friendly’ styles of handbag that cause less strain on your body.

The research revealed that different types of bags can be better, or worse, for your body. The very best way to carry your stuff is as a headload, but as head baskets have yet to appear on the runways, here is the information you need on the different types of handbags available to help you make a healthy choice. If you make smart handbag choices now, you can drastically to reduce back issues in the future.

Backpack

Backpacks are often touted as the best way to carry a lot of heavy stuff. However, this can also be the problem with them, as people are tempted to overload. Having said that, backpacks are still a great way to carry everything you need, because they distribute the weight well across your back. The most effective backpacks for relieving back strain are those with a lumbar strap, which greatly reduces the stress on your body. However, lumbar straps are not the most fashionable, so the best bet for the fashion conscious is to try and find a backpack with thick straps, such as those in Marc Jacobs collections, which are styled after comfy streetwear.

Satchel

Satchels have come back into fashion, and quickly gained popularity because they are perfect for carrying around laptops. However, laptops are very heavy, which means that you are adding a lot of weight to a bag that was actually designed to carry around papers. The best way to prevent injury from using satchels is to get a lighter laptop. If you don’t really need all that computing power you’re lugging everywhere, then it might be better to downgrade to a tablet or ultrabook, which are much lighter options.

You should also make sure that you don’t pick up any unnecessary work stuff along the way, such as pens, staplers and pads of papers. Keep what you do carry as minimal as possible. Wearing a satchel over your shoulder is the best way to distribute the weight, and prevent back problems. You should also make a habit of putting your satchel down when you are on the train, or in line waiting. Limiting how much you carry your heavy satchel will help a lot towards limiting the strain on your back. If possible, try to use the smallest satchel you can, Cambridge Satchel sells a tiny Conductor Bag, which is perfect for keeping things light. The Burberry’s Square Satchel in pink is the perfect example of how you can use a small bag with a neutral color palette to set off any outfit.

Italian Women Handbags

Top Handle

Top handle handbags are one of the most popular classic designs available. However, they are also one of the worst for your body, as they cause a lot of back strain, and stress your muscles. This is made worse by the fact that top handle bags are designed to be carried on the elbow, meaning that they can also cause strain on your arm joints, as well as your back. But, if you’re still in love with your top handle bags, there are alternatives to not using them ever again. You should try and pick top handle bags that also have a longer strap, so you can also wear them over the shoulder, which reduces strain. For example, the Puzzle Bag by Loewe also has a stylish shoulder strap, or you could try adding an interchangeable guitar strap to your current favorite bag to make a unique fashion statement.

Holdall

Holdalls are designed to hold it all, as the name suggests. They are great for overnight trips, or using as stylish gym bags. However, because they have room for a lot, make sure you don’t overpack. Keep things limited to only what is necessary, and try to select a holdall with a longer shoulder strap to make it easier to carry. Carrying it on your shoulder will help reduce potential aches and pains, especially if you are traveling and carrying it a lot. There are many holdalls on the market with long and wide straps to help facilitate carrying the bag, such as the Moncler’s Padded Holdall Bag and the Boxford Large Duffel Bag produced by Longchamp.

Tote

Totes are great for doing the shopping, because you can hold a lot in a tote. However, that can also be a problem, as totes can get incredibly heavy, especially after the shopping has been put in. The other drawback to totes is that they can only be carried on one side at a time. This effectively makes your tote twice as heavy, as all the weight is on one side of your body. This can cause a lot of strain on your back, as it is impossible to carry the tote in a balanced way that engages all your core muscle groups. If you do decide to stick with totes, then try to buy ones that are lighter when they don’t have anything in, as this will help you keep things as light as possible. If you are taking a tote to get groceries, consider bringing two smaller ones so you can distribute the weight evenly. Two huge totes that weigh under 2 lbs are the Gucci GG Supreme Tote and the Rag and Bone Compass Everyday Tote.

Cross Body

Cross body bags are very popular, and as luck would have it, they are also a great choice for helping to prevent back pain. When worn across your back, cross body bags allow you to distribute the weight of the bag across all your muscle groups, including your core. This leads to less strain, as your back muscles are working together to deal with the weight of the bag. The other great thing about cross body bags is that they are usually smaller, keeping the amount you can put in them to a healthy limit. Great examples of small cross body bags can be found everywhere, Tory Burch’s Georgia Crossbody comes in an incredibly versatile black, and Victoria Beckham’s Half Moon Bag has great retro styling. However, remember to avoid hanging your cross body bag on one shoulder, as this creates an unbalanced load, with just one shoulder taking all the weight while your other muscles are not engaged at all.

woman holding handbag

Clutch

Clutches may seem like they would be great for back health. They’re small so they are usually quite light. But surprisingly, clutches could actually be worst kind of bag, because they create odd strains on your muscles, and can lead to muscular imbalances when you carry it under your arm. When choosing which clutch to buy, it is advisable to select one that incorporates a handle or has a detachable strap. This will allow you to change the way you carry your handbag if you start to feel the strain. In a pinch, make sure you have a date to carry your bag for some of the night. Aspinal of London has a super cute Mini Trunk clutch that has a handle and strap as well, and the Chloe Nile Bracelet Minaudiere Bag, incorporates a bracelet that can be used to carry the clutch as well.

Rolling Bag

Although rolling bags may not appear on ‘world’s most stylish bags’ lists, they may actually be the secret to never having to suffer from handbag-induced back pain again. Rolling bags are obviously much better easier to carry, because your body doesn’t have to carry any of the weight. Instead you can let the ground take all the strain, as you easily pull your load with just one hand. Remember to switch which arm is pulling the bag. Even for fashionistas, there are some beautiful rolling bags on the market that are virtually indistinguishable from regular handbags. They are designed for fashionable travellers, but can also be used day-to-day. Ted Baker’s Riorio Peach Blossom Travel Bag is fantastic example of a super stylish rolling bag.

Beyond the style or type of handbag you choose, there are some other details you should look for when trying to find a ‘body friendly’ bag. Regardless of size, there are a few things that will help keep your bag light, and back healthy:

Wide Straps

You may have already noticed that thin straps dig into your shoulder much more, sometimes even leaving a red mark. That’s why one of the best things you can do for your back is to get a handbag with wide straps. Before your heart starts palpitating at the thought of not being fashionable, there are several wide strap options out there. Marc Jacobs has a great lightweight Snapshot Small Camera bag, which has a very broad strap. Rebecca Minkoff is another designer embracing wide strap bags, with beautiful multi-colored embroidery on the strap, in her signature bohemian style. Wide decorated interchangeable bag straps is an emerging trend that’s great for your health.

Now, the luxury designers, such as Kate Spade, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Loewe are embracing more ergonomic designs, and sell several separate wide shoulder straps, designed to clip on to any of your existing handbags. They are even drawing attention to their stylish guitar straps with elaborate designs and bright colors. Fendi also sells a whole range of interchangeable straps (https://www.fendi.com/us/woman/strap-you), including the hippy ‘Flowerland’ and the coveted ‘Strap You Genuine Fox Fur’, which is already sold out most places online.

Light Materials

Some handbags weigh significantly more than others, even before you have put all your stuff in. Bags made from especially heavy leathers can weigh pounds, just on their own. Unfortunately, this is the case for many of the world’s finest luxury bags from the ancient fashion houses. However, there are many modern designer bags that use very lightweight materials, so you can still look on-trend and stylish with a light bag in tow. One great example, the Loewe Flamenco Hobo, is made from a super lightweight jersey material. However, it’s still got fashion impact as it comes in bright colors, making it a stand-out accessory for any outfit. Another great lightweight tote is the Longchamps Le Pliage in canvas.

Minimal Adornment

Even though everyone loves a fully adorned bag, bursting with buttons, metal hardware and embroidery, your back might not thank you for it in the long-run. Fortunately, minimalism is big on the runways worldwide, so choosing a bag in a simple style, with minimal detail, will not look out of place. Your bag can still help accessorize any outfit, even without eye-catching details. For a stunning color pop, Céline’s Small Cabas Bag is the perfect combination of seafoam and vivid red, guaranteed to make a statement. Smaller bags are also great for imposing a limit on how much stuff you can carry around with you. If you keep it small, then you’ll be sure to only be tempted to bring your most essential items, like a phone, wallet and keys.

Tips To Prevent Injury

back therapy

Of course, not using a handbag is not an option for most of us, so what can be done to help? Rather than stressing about it, the best approach is to follow the following advice on how to help prevent injury. Number one is to follow all the steps above when deciding which handbag to buy. Intelligent handbag choice can go a long way towards limiting your potential risk for injury. But, there are also some other strategies you can employ to help you reduce your risk of potential back pain.

Go on a ‘Purse Diet’

For some, the real answer is going on a ‘purse diet’, where you sit down once in a while and sort out what you are carrying around with you. Everything you’re not sure is an item that should be in your bag, or not, ask yourself “Do I need this today?.” If the answer is no, then ditch it for the day. You can always put it back in when you need it. This doesn’t just apply to all that junk in your bag, but also the essentials. If you have your keys on a heavy metal keychain, get rid of the keychain and use a simple, lightweight alternative. Even with make-up, don’t just throw in your whole make-up bag, but instead take out the items you will definitely use when out, like an eyeliner and foundation powder, and leave everything else. Slimming down your water bottles can also reduce the weight of your bag dramatically. Try switching to using a small bottle, instead of a large one, and just refill more often.

Be Careful of Wearing Heels

Another great tip for all fashionistas is to go easy on wearing heels when carrying a heavy bag. Tottering on high heels can make all the issues with carrying handbags even worse, as your body has a higher center of gravity, and holding weight in this position can cause your muscles to tense even more. Heels can add balance and posture issues to the list of potential back problems. However, you don’t have to stop wearing heels, just wear them less often. Rather than having to forgo your favorite shoes, just switch up the days you rock the nine inch killer heels. If you can’t decide between the bag and the shoes, or if they are matching, then you can help reduce the risks to your health by stretching before and after wearing them together. A quick round of yoga is perfect for activating your muscles, and soothing any potential aches and pains.

girl yoga pose new york skyline

Stretch and Exercise Regularly

In fact, exercising and stretching is one of the best ways to help you recover from issues caused by your handbag. Activities like pilates, weightlifting, gym classes and yoga are great for preventing injury, as they can help develop your core muscles, which are some of the most important muscles you use for carrying your handbag in a healthy way. These activities are also necessary for developing proper bag holding techniques. Lifting a heavy handbag put a large amount of strain on several groups of muscles in your body. So, using proper lifting techniques, which activate your stronger muscles is a very good idea. This also applies when you put down your bag, so remember to engage your legs and lower the bag carefully when putting your bag on the floor. A good way to avoid this back strain is to keep your purse on a counter or table, so you don’t have to keep bending down to pick it up and put it down.

Hold Your Handbag the Right way

One of the most important factors in how good a bag is for you is actually how you hold your bag. Holding your handbag in an unergonomic way can mean that as little as five pounds can cause strain. This means that straps are more important than ever, and not just as a fashion statement. What straps you bag has is crucial when considering your health, because the straps are what distributes the weight of your bag across your shoulders and back.

girl with backpack on street scene

Changing how you hold your handbag can also reduce the risk of developing muscle imbalances from repetitive strain. All you have to do is change which shoulder you use every once in a while. Switching the side you hold your bag on is essential for all styles of purses. Clutches can be a literal drag on your arm muscles, as it’s impossible to distribute the weight effectively, so keep them very light. This is also true when holding your mobile phone in a separate hand or pocket from your handbag. While it may seem like a good idea to distribute the weight, having multiple things weighing you down at different angles is bad for you as well. Although it may not seem intuitive, keeping your phone in your bag is the best idea.

Heavy handbags may be convenient when you suddenly desire your favorite new nail polish or notebook on the go. But, there are risks involved, and your back will prefer it if you cut back on the unnecessary bag clutter. Getting a little more organized is an easy price to pay for a painless life. If you also choose your styles of handbag carefully, you can mitigate the risk of developing short and long-term body issues, while still enjoying a varied collection of stylish handbags that are fabulous additions to your outfits. A bit of knowledge goes a long way in preventing future back issues from carrying handbags, and if you make intelligent choices, you won’t have to sacrifice your body to look fabulous.

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