The Effect of Baggage on Posture

You may have noticed that I chose the word "baggage" instead of "bag" in the title of this post.  I considered it for a moment, knowing that the focus of the post would be on physically carrying bags (like backpacks, purses, and briefcases), but this is an ideal opportunity to point out how inseparable the physical and emotional aspects of things are.

In a recent post, I discussed how hunching over your smartphone right before and interview or meeting can lead you to feel more fearful and less confident.  Carrying your bag can affect how you feel and come across as well.

You've likely heard the phrase, "She carries the weight of the world on her shoulders," an example of language employed in day-to-day conversation that points to how linked what we do and how we feel are (and vice versa).  

Take a moment to imagine a person walking around with the weight of the world on their shoulders and then imagine the same person carrying a heavy backpack or bag.  The way we carry stuff affects our postural habits, which may then stick with us even when we're not carrying it.  We may in turn feel less "up" (light and springy), in addition to the potential for neck, shoulder, and back pain.

Let's take a look at several types of bags (The backpack, messenger bag, shoulder bag, briefcase or shopping bag, and rolling suitcase) and I'll offer you a few tips on how to keep the spring in your step and the pain out of your neck, back, and shoulders.  You've probably heard the expression "pain in the neck" too!  

The Backpack:  These days children and adults of all ages carry backpacks, especially us city-dwellers who don't have a car to toss an extra sweater and bottle of water into.        

Good News:  Back packs can be worn on both shoulders and more evenly distribute weight.  

Bad News:  There's often a tendency to either lift the shoulders up into the straps or to let the backpack pull your upper back back and down.                                                                      

Try this:  

1) Wear the backpack on both shoulders and cinch up the straps so that the middle of the backpack reaches the middle of your back.  (For children, make sure the backpack isn't too big.)

2)  Don't jut your chin out.  Remind yourself of how tall you are by tapping or scratching the top of your head before you start walking (This will help prevent you from sinking down).  

3) Think about your whole body from the tops of the shoulders and below all the way to the ground supporting the backpack.  Don't lift the shoulders for "extra" support.  You'll only strain.  Holding onto the fronts of the shoulder straps is fine so long as you don't tighten the shoulder, upper arms, or wrists to do so.

The Messenger Bag

Good News:  You can add some support with your hand.

Bad News:  This one's twisted (literally).  If you're not careful, the bag might put you in a twisted state if you wear it in the typical shoulder/opposite hip style.  

Try This:

1) When you first put the bag on, notices how the weight distributes through your body and see if you can avoid letting it twist you or throw you off balance.  Don't stiffen.  Keep breathing.  Make sure your weight is evenly balanced on both feet.

2)  If you get tired, place your hand (on the same side as the bag) under the bag and give it a little support without tightening your shoulder.

The Shoulder Bag

Good News:  You can hold it high up and close to your body.

Bad News:  It's all on one side, so it might throw you off balance.

Try this:

1) Don't lift your shoulder to support the bag.  

2) If you are holding the strap with your hand, don't over-tense your wrist and forearm

3) Feel your feet on the ground.  Imagine that the weight of the bag is becoming part of your weight and is being supported by your whole body.

The Briefcase or Shopping Bag


Good News:  You're more likely to put it down when you're standing (ie waiting for a train).

Bad News:  It's held further from your center than other bags, which adds additional challenges for the arms, shoulders, neck, and back

Try This:  

1) If your shoulder wants to do more of the work of holding the bag, transfer that effort to your hand (without tightening your wrist).

2) Bend your elbow slightly.  It's a good way to distribute the effort throughout your arm and remind yourself not to overdo it with the shoulder.

The Rolling Suitcase (or backpack on wheels)

Good News:  You don't have to deal with carrying it.

Bad News:  It's easy to overwork the shoulder and upper back.

Try This:

1) As you are pulling don't tense your upper arm and shoulder into your body.  Use your hand more.

2) Pull the bag, don't let it pull you.  Stand tall. Don't lead with your pelvis or chest as you walk.  

Paying attention to how you carry your bag is one of many ways that you make sure that you arrive at your destination feeling relaxed, energized, and ready for work, an interview, or meeting with a friend or client.