Is what you’re carrying more than just weighing you down? Regularly carrying heavy loads, and in the wrong way, puts you at risk of long-term musculoskeletal damage and potential spinal compression, say the experts.
“Whenever you carry too much weight, or distribute loads onto the body unevenly, you’re compressing the spine or you’re forcing your body to compensate by using other muscles, which creates asymmetry in the body,” explains Chris Sherer, a musculoskeletal physiotherapist working out of the ProHealth Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy Centre in Central.
You won’t feel the effects of a poorly carried pouch overnight, but you may feel it over time, and when you do it’s a real pain in the neck. Or shoulders, or lower back – the list goes on.
Overloading the body unevenly can also cause “postural scoliosis”, where the muscles on one side of the back are short, contracted and weak, or neural tension issues leading to numbness. Children who lug around heavy backpacks are most at risk.
“Carrying as little as possible, or nothing at all, is key to avoiding injury,” says Sherer. But, of course, that’s not always possible. Here are his tips to lighten your load, when you have to carry something.
Backpack is best
The backpack is the best way to carry anything, says Sherer. Combining it with a waist strap, adjusted so that the bottom of the bag sits at the waist, is ideal. “The idea is to have the load as close to the body as possible, with the heaviest portion of the load sitting on the waist.
2. Single-strap bag: loop it and pull it in tight
Many people wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a backpack. Even Sherer admits he doesn’t like to wear a backpack during summer because of the “sweat factor”For example, when you carry a heavy bag on the right shoulder, the body instinctively reacts by activating the muscles around the hip on the opposite side to maintain balance. This ultimately leads to compression on the vertebral joints on one side, and overstretches the muscles on the opposite
Avoid the tote and laptop bag
Any bag which forces you to carry heavy loads low and away from the body are the biggest culprits, says Sherer, who cites laptop bags as a classic example.
Keep handbags light and tight to the body
Firstly, to all handbag-carrying readers: ditch the junk. “When you take a look at what’s in these bags there’s often a lot more in there than needs to be carried. Take the opportunity for a clear-out. Particularly look to unload heavy wallets and coin purses.”
The wheel deal
Carry too much altogether? Consider using wheeled luggage, with four wheels being the best option to help the bag glide effortlessly. “Using four wheels enables you to keep the bag close to your body and reduces the load on one side altogether,” he explains. Carrying a bag with two wheels is less ideal as it forces you to twist your spine, putting extra strain on a lengthened trapezius muscle.
Spread the shopping load
Use two shopping bags rather than one and make sure your load is evenly distributed across the two bags. “Carrying two bags helps to distribute the load and avoid asymmetry.”
For parents, Sherer also has tips for carrying small children: make them walk as often as possible. “If your kids are old enough to walk, encourage them to do so as it is so much better for your back.”