Sometimes it’s the one you love that will hurt you the most.

You suffer in the name of fashion or for the sake of convenience because you would rather try to deal with the pain instead of addressing the problem head-on. But I am here to tell you the uncomfortable truth: carrying a handbag can mess up your posture and negatively impact your physiological health…if you let it.

A woman’s handbag is the ultimate accessory. It’s fun, functional, amplifies outfits, and helps us feel prepared for everyday life. Nonetheless, there are still too many of us secretly walking around wincing due to the discomfort from long-term use and it’s time we acknowledged it.

Sometimes our favorite bags are simply too heavy, too big, or too cumbersome to be toting around constantly.

I mentioned in my previous post that when buying a new purse we should be mindful of how carrying certain types physically make us feel, but I also know that doesn’t mean we will stop carrying them any time soon. So I got together with two physiotherapy professionals in my area to discuss everything related to purses, posture, and pain prevention.

The first expert opinion I got was from Sarah D., a physical therapist of 36 years, former anatomy teacher, and adult orthopedic specialist. Sarah and I chit-chatted about how contrary to popular belief, good posture isn’t just holding a neutral position while sitting or standing but is something that should be practiced more dynamically.

“It’s about your total personal alignment – how your muscles support the body and keep you balanced so that you can move in and out of positions properly,” she told me.

With this new definition in mind, I considered all of the positions we purse-wearers frequently – and unconsciously – move through: swinging satchels over our shoulders, resting top handle bags in the crook of our inner elbow, letting cute little clutches hang off our wrists…

All the while she explained to me that the most crucial factor may not necessarily be the bag’s weight but how the way we hold it tends to shift our center of gravity, forcing us to overcompensate to keep ourselves upright. Scientifically speaking, the farther your bag is from the center of your body, the heavier it is.

This made sense to me but I exercise 3x a week, so doesn’t having strong muscles = the ability to statically support a heavy load like carrying a handbag?

“People can hurt themselves by picking up something light but it’s the repeated long-term action of improperly picking the thing up that causes real problems. Your body is meant for motion, so to have your bag just resting in the same spot fatigues the muscle of the surrounding area and goes against what muscles are actually meant to do.”

She continued to tell me how one change in your body ripples through the rest of it: Shoulder bags can cause you to lean into the hip on the side the bag hangs. Bags setting in the crook of your arm put unnecessary stress on the bicep, causing potential muscle contractions (tightening and shortening.), and wristlets, while ok if worn infrequently, can kickstart the beginning of a tough battle with carpal tunnel.

Sarah ended the convo with consideration of crossbody bags being best because the force angles across the chest and towards your center instead of away from it. Nevertheless, she still encouraged us to be proactive about minimizing the tension caused by our purse of choice. 

And just like that, it was time to reach out to my second source, Allyson B., to get a second opinion.

Allyson is a Pilates teacher, physical therapy assistant of 10 years, and was my go-to to ask about joint health. Her practice focuses on improving and maintaining the range of motion of elderly and disabled clients to help them to avoid new or worsening injuries. Upon approaching her with my inquiries about fancy fashion accessories she humbly admitted that despite being a trained PTA, she herself was also guilty of heavy handbag wrongdoings!

“It’s hard because big handbags are in style and it is important to me as a busy mom that I can carry everything I need for me and my kids…but not taking care of your joints is a surefire way to cause functional limitations later in life. Don’t break down your posture during your youth.”

“What kind of limitations?”

“Herniated discs, pinched nerves, thoracic outlet syndrome (caving over to one side with a closed chest), joint contractures (the development of non-stretchy connective tissue.) I know what the end stage of life looks like, and it lets me know how important it is to take care of your body”

Allyson proceeded to echo Sarah, telling me the best thing we can do is focus on being proactive about when, where, and how we carry our bags. Don’t wait until there is a problem; Frequently change purse position, perform foundational movements through targeted exercise, properly stretch tense areas, minimize the load (clean out your purse!), and alternate the style of your bag as often as possible.

You can prevent the breakdown of the most celebrated accessory of all time ﹘ good posture

Consider this post your little reminder!

Remember the form and function of your body and be on the lookout for any signs of musculoskeletal stress: acute or shooting pains, skin discoloration from poor circulation, headache, muscle fatigue, numbness, and tingles. Just for a moment, don’t think only of the wear-and-tear on your bag, but how you can prevent the breakdown of the most celebrated accessory of all time ﹘ good posture.

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