Heavy Purse Syndrome

Heavy Purse Syndrome- 10 Tips to avoid shoulder and spine pain from an overloaded purse.

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Is your purse giving you neck, back, or shoulder pain? Chances are it could be. It is recommended that a full purse or handbag not weight more than 10% of your bodyweight, yet many of us are guilty of toting around bags weighing upwards of 10% of our bodyweight. For example, a woman weighing 140lbs should be carrying a bag that weighs less than 14lbs.  By carrying around such a heavy bag on one shoulder, you could be predisposing yourself to the following:

  • Upper Back and Neck Pain
  • Tension Headaches
  • Low Back Pain or Sciatica
  • Elbow Tendinitis
  • Rotator Cuff injury in the shoulder
  • Numbness & Tingling into the arm or hand

Purse Skeleton

For many of us, the handbag is somewhat a safety net, allowing us to carry around everything but the kitchen sink in case a situation might arise where we need these items. These days, while your iPhone, wallet, and car keys are necessities to carry in your purse. Chances are, however, that it is not necessary to tote around your laptop computer and tablet, several shades of lipstick or nail polish, a full 2L bottle of water, your sunglasses and case, and the latest Jodi Picoult novel. While slimming down on some of the contents of your purse is one of the easiest options to lighten the load, here are some other tips to lighten the load of your purse, and on your body.

  1. Select the right Purse: Preferably, select a smaller, compact purse. This allows the weight to be carried not only closer to your body, but prevents it from being overstuffed because of the small nature of the bag! Additionally, look for a purse that has multiple compartments, this way the load is distributed throughout the bag, and not focused on one location.
  2. Select a purse made out of lighter fabric: A leather bag weighs more when empty, and even though they are quite stylish and durable, this means you are carrying more around before you load it with your essential items
  3. Select a ‘Minimalist’ purse: This means, a purse without all the metal embellishments like grommets, buckles, zippers etc that can all add to the weight of the purse itself.
  4. Select a purse with wider, cushioned straps: A wider and more cushioned strap is less likely to dig into your shoulder while wearing it, meaning less discomfort for you! This also means avoiding a ‘chain link’ strap, which can quite easily dig and poke into the muscles around the shoulder area. A strap of more than 5cm in width is ideal for more evenly dispersing the weight of the bag onto the shoulder.
  5. Eliminate Duplicate Items: This means, removing duplicate pens, lipsticks, etc from your purse.
  6. Empty your Wallet Regularly: Empty your wallet of extra coins, receipts, and cards that you don’t need. Chances are there are many cards you have in your wallet that you might not need to carry around with you everyday.
  7. Travel Sized Toiletries: While you might find hand lotion or hand sanitizer necessary, the full sized version often isn’t. Your local drugstore often has a section dedicated to airplane friendly toiletries, so use these to put in your purse instead of their full-size counterparts!
  8. Leave the keys at home!: If you have keys that you don’t use on a regular basis, consider leaving them at home and only bringing them with you when you need!
  9. Use a cross-body strap: For a purse with longer straps, put the strap across your body. This more evenly distributes the weight of the purse across the body and your core musculature, meaning the shoulder and spine will take less of a beating.
  10. Switch sides of the Purse: If emptying the contents just won’t work for you, at the very least alternate the side on which you carry your bag. This will even out the stress on your shoulders and spine, meaning you are less likely to overwork just one side.

Hopefully these easy to change solutions will help you manage any discomfort you currently have in your spine or shoulders! But, if you are currently experiencing some of the symptoms listed above, it is always best to check with a healthcare provider so they can ensure you are receiving appropriate care to manage your condition!

Dr. Elaine Screaton (DC, BSc) is a chiropractor currently practicing at Synergea Family Health Centre in Calgary, AB.


  1. https://www.aota.org/~/media/Corporate/Files/Backpack/Ergonomic%20Strategie%20for%20Using%20a%20Purse.ashx
  2. http://www.chatelaine.com/health/wellness/heavy-purse-syndrome/
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Hossein_Matlabi2/publication/264274066_Carrying_heavy_backpacks_and_handbags_amongst_elementary_students_Causes_and_solutions/links/53d6802f0cf220632f3da5a6.pdf