FOCUS ON HEALTH
Maintaining a good posture and walking style
By Kim Johnson
Is your bag causing you neck and back pains? Whether you’re at school, working in an office or just out, chances are you carry a bag or laptop. Every day I see young people carrying a whole house on their backs. At almost every turn I see rucksacks slung over one shoulder and women with handbags that contain everything, including the kitchen sink. How does all of that affect our backs and our posture? Carrying a heavy rucksack can put a lot of strain on our necks, backs and shoulders. Over time this causes fatigue of the muscles and leads to muscle imbalances and changes in our posture. To minimise the effects of a heavy rucksack:
- Wear both shoulder straps. Don’t sling it over just one shoulder.
- Adjust the shoulder straps so they sit high on your back and are comfortable on your shoulders.
- If the backpack has a waist strap or chest strap, use it. The waist strap helps to distribute the weight load to the hips, relieving the pressure on the shoulders. A chest strap helps keep the shoulder straps in place and reduces swaying of the pack.
But it’s not just heavy rucksacks that are a problem. Carrying a handbag also has its consequences. Have you ever looked into the average woman’s handbag? It has everything to cover any eventuality. If you are one of those women who say “Oh no! That’s not me. I avoid heavy bags,” you’re still not in the clear. How you carry your bag can also cause problems. So what is your style?:
- The Two-handed Clutch Pose
Many ladies opt for the soft feminine look, holding their clutch with two hands in front of their bodies. However, this causes us to round our shoulders which can be as detrimental as sitting with poor posture in front of our computers or television all day. This pose causes the muscles across our chests and the front of the shoulders to shorten and tighten, overstretching and weakening the muscles across our upper back
Solution: Hold your clutch in one hand but remember to swap hands often. Focus on keeping your shoulders back and down, and your palms forward. This will “encourage” your shoulders to roll backwards instead of forwards.
- The Arm-Crook Hook
The latest fashion statement is to hook your bag on your elbow. This screams power and confidence. The problem with this pose is that is can cause the shoulders to round and as the bag is carried away from the body, it can put extra work on the elbow and biceps, especially if the bag is heavy. Remember what we are told about lifting heavy objects: Keep them close to the body and their weight is more evenly distributed and manageable. The best solution is to keep swapping arms and keep the load light.
- The Cross-body
This style allows you to keep both hands free and, as the bag is held close to the body, the weight is more evenly distributed. This is the best way to carry your bag. It’s kind to your posture.
- The Shoulder Bag
Carrying your bag on one shoulder can be bad for your posture, especially if you carry a lot of things and your bag is heavy. This style can put pressure on the joints at the top of your shoulder (the acromioclavicular joint) causing local pain. It can also fatigue the muscles in your arm and upper back, as they work hard to balance the load. This can also affect the neck, leading to neck pain and even headaches.
Solution: If you carry your bag in this way, use your free hand to support the weight of your bag. Focus attention on your posture, ensuring that your shoulders are back and down.
- Traditional Handbag
If you are accustomed to carrying heavy loads in your hand, you will find that you end up leaning towards the load, causing asymmetry, and putting a stretch on one side of your body and compression on the other. As well as affecting muscles, this can irritate ligaments which can become inflamed and painful.
Solution: Try to carry even loads in both hands. Or if you have just one load, change sides regularly
But how you carry your bag doesn’t just affect your posture. It can have a negative impact on how you walk. Our natural pattern of walking involves swinging our arms. This is the body’s way of keeping balance. If you are unable to swing your arms and legs in a coordinated way, our body will compensate for this change in balance. So next time you pick up your bag, stop and think: Is your bag affecting your posture and walking style?
(Kim Jackson is a physiotherapist who specializes in musculoskeletal pain and dysfunction, including back pain and sciatica, stroke and other neuro conditions as well as sports physiotherapy. She works at Bayside Therapy Services in Rodney Bay, St. Lucia.)