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Purses and backpacks cause spine pain.

Posted Aug 17 2010 5:08am

Heavy purses that women carry especially on their shoulders can cause the same kind of problems that backpack cause in kids.

Heavy purses and backpacks affect the shape of our spines.  Our spines are meant to be straight top to bottom and balanced from side to side. Normal curves are also present and must be maintained. If everything is as it should be then the muscles will work properly, the nerves will work properly and there will be little or no stress on the joints which could cause degeneration or arthritis. We will be healthy and happy. But this is not what I see in my office.

I frequently yell (in a loving way) at my female patients that are carrying large heavy purses especially when they carry them on a shoulder. I will actually take their purse and weigh it. They laugh until I tell them their purse weight 5 or more pounds. That is like putting a bag of flour or  sugar on their shoulder. I ask them what they have in their. We will pull out books, keys, phones, wallets, oodles of change, make up, picture albums, organizers and lots of other unnecessary objects that add to the weight. It is almost they were going to go on that old TV show where if they had the object asked for with them, they got to pick door number one, two or three. Everything you could think of is in that purse.

So let’s look at the mechanics of carrying that purse. A woman carries 5 pounds on her right shoulder. In order to keep the purse from falling off, she has to hike up her right shoulder. This closes down the space between the shoulder and the neck. This area is called the Thoracic Outlet. Many things pass through this area. There are blood vessels that leave the heart and branch to go down the arm. There is a plexus of nerves that left the spine and go down the arm to bring sensation back and forth from the hand to the spinal cord. There are lymph nodes and vessels which add to our circulatory system. When that area is pinched closed for a long period of time over and over again, you can get numbness, tingling, poor circulation and many other types of symptoms. Another type of problem can occur if instead of raising the shoulder up, the shoulder remains tractioned downward. The nerves can also be tractioned and stretched which will also cause tingling down the arm as well as neck and or mid back pain. Shoulder pain can also occur.

When abnormal positions are maintained for a long time, muscles will try to accommodate and become hypertonic or extra tight. Trigger points can develop…the knot you feel and try to rub out with massage. These trigger points can become permanent if the abnormal muscle function is maintained. Then my job becomes more difficult; I have to re-balance the spine, re-educate the muscle and somehow convince the patient to lighted her purse or carry a smaller one.

I practice what I preach. My purse contains a small wallet with my license, 3 credit cards and a couple of other store cards, some cash and very little change. I have a chap stick and some business cards. My cell phone is attached and that is it. If my purse weighs a pound I would be surprised. So ladies, what do you really need in that purse? Lighten the load and feel better.

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