If you were given the choice, would you rather look great, or feel great? Many people say they would rather look fantastic, even if that meant they had to feel uncomfortable or be a little bit unhealthy. For example, who among us wouldn't want a swimsuit-perfect body? But sometimes there are health risks associated with being that lean or at least with getting that lean. Do you ever wear high heels even though they kill your feet, or an uncomfortable but figure-flattering undergarment? Often, we are willing to sacrifice our comfort, or even our health, in the name of appearance or fashion.
Recently, women have been carrying larger and larger purses to accommodate an expanding list of must-haves, including make-up, cell phone, laptop computer, charger … the list gets longer every year. These heavy, over-sized handbags are creating not just uncomfortable, sore muscles, but real problems with muscular and skeletal health. In a December 6, 2006 New York Times article, author J. Courtney Sullivan complained "Ouch! My Bag is Killing Me!" Another New York Times article, on October 17, 2007 cautioned us to notice "When Your Purse is a Pain". Oprah tried to steer us right, recommending smaller bags, wider straps, over-the-head straps, backpacks or at least alternating shoulders in an effort to lessen the back and neck pain associated with heavy handbags ("Shop Smart: Is Your Handbag Killing You?" October 2007 Oprah Magazine).
The American Chiropractic Association recommends carrying a bag that weighs no more than 10% of your own body weight. So if, for instance you weigh 150 pounds, your handbag should not weigh more than 15 pounds. Many women's handbags weigh 25 pounds or more, and not all of us are over 250 pounds! Dr Richard Brassard, President of the American Chiropractic Association, observes that carrying a bag heavier than 10 percent of your body weight interferes with the natural movement of the upper and lower body. "The person carrying the bag will hike one shoulder to subconsciously guard against the weight, holding the other shoulder immobile," said Dr. Brassard. "This results in the unnatural counterbalance movement of one shoulder and little control over the movements of the arms and legs. Even worse, the spine curves toward the shoulder." And handbags are not just for personal items any more. Women carry all manner of heavy items in their bag, including laptop computer, hardcover books, and let's not forget pets! Shoulder bags or specialized purses for small dogs and cats have become very popular over the past few years, adding to the burden on a woman's muscles and joints.
So, what's to be done about our overloaded shoulders, spine, and lower body? Frequent travelers are increasingly sacrificing fashion for function, turning to backpacks as a safer, more comfortable way to carry a heavy load. When worn over one shoulder, a backpack is no better than any other shoulder bag. However, when you wear both shoulder straps, and adjust the straps so the pack rides high on your back, the weight will be much more evenly distributed. In addition, the balanced load will have much less of an effect on your gait, minimizing lower body stresses. Snugging the straps so the backpack sits as close to your body as possible will also make the load feel much lighter.
Another alternative to the shoulder bag is a bag on wheels. In a conscious effort to diminish problems with back pain, airline pilots and flight attendants now pull a bag on wheels rather than carry a bag with a strap. Travelers have taken notice, and increasingly pull bags on wheels rather than struggle with carrying awkward, unbalanced loads. Even Fido and Muffy now have a fashionable alternative to riding in the shoulder bag: Pet strollers are fast becoming a fashion rage in Europe and North America. We would all rather push our small children in a stroller rather than carry them, so why not push our small pets in a stroller? Rather than a shoulder bag for our little pets, a pet stroller will lighten the load on our over-stressed back and shoulders and promote an upright posture. In addition, our furry friends can now go with us to places we used to go without them. For example, most of us would probably not walk our dog or cat on a leash through the mall. But in a secure, enclosed pet stroller our companions can accompany us virtually anywhere. A long walk or jog might be too much for a Pekingese or a Maltese. But bring along a pet stroller, and your Princess can ride the rest of the way when she tires out.
As alternatives to heavy shoulder bags, consider a backpack, wheeled luggage, or a pet stroller to lessen the harmful, unbalanced load on your shoulders and back. Keeping your muscles and spine healthy is one key part of remaining active and pain-free. And with the newer backpack styles, modern wheeled luggage, and trendy pet strollers, you don't even have to sacrifice fashion to do so!
Cecelia Brown is a licensed mental health practitioner who specializes in stress management strategies. Pet ownership is one way to reduce stress and improve overall well-being. Please visit her website: www.PerfectPetStroller.com to find out more about Pet Strollers, Pet Bike Trailers, and Wheeled Pet Carriers.