Ouch! My Bag Is Killing Me-NY Times article


Mar 19, 2006
Ouch! My Bag Is Killing Me
New York Times
December 7, 2006

WHEN Genevieve Roth decided to train for the New York City Marathon for the first time this year, she called Amy Youner, a physical therapist at SportsCare, a rehabilitation clinic in Manhattan.

During their first appointment, Ms. Youner spotted Ms. Roth’s enormous Sigerson Morrison handbag and refused to work with her unless she stopped carrying it. The bag, Ms. Youner said, would put stress on Ms. Roth’s shoulders and back, and could cause injury.

Ms. Roth, a 26-year-old editor at Details magazine, felt torn. On the one hand, she had heard that Ms. Youner was one of the best therapists in the city. On the other hand, she really loved that bag.

“Amy eventually agreed to keep seeing me, but it became a constant battle,” Ms. Roth said. “Sometimes I’d drop my bag off at work before my morning appointment with her, so she wouldn’t know I was still using it.”

In the last few years, bags have become ever more voluminous, and as women have fallen sway to their chunky charms, they have filled them up with necessities. These days many women are as burdened as mail carriers.

As a result, reports of shoulder soreness and stiff necks are on the rise and doctors, massage therapists and chiropractors are tailoring treatments for the bag-obsessed.

“In the last year or so, I’ve been seeing the same kinds of issues with adult women that I’m used to seeing with kids who carry heavy backpacks on one shoulder,” said Karen Erickson, a chiropractor who has a private practice on the Upper West Side, and also serves as a spokeswoman for the American Chiropractic Association. “They’re experiencing neck pain — not just while they’re carrying their purses, but all the time. A lot of women even get bad headaches.”

“Lately, when a patient comes in complaining of these symptoms, I walk over and pick up her purse,” she added. “Without fail, it weighs a ton.”

For the past several months, Robin Ehrlich, the director of the Eastside Massage Therapy Center on the Upper East Side, has observed clients old and new staggering under the weight of huge purses and griping about neck pain. “It’s an epidemic,” Ms. Ehrlich said. “We’re busier than ever before right now and big bags are the reason.”

A common side effect is that one shoulder becomes slightly higher than the other, she said. “A lot of women talk on their cellphones while they’re carrying these bags, which only intensifies the problem, because in addition to balancing too much weight on one side, they’re lifting the shoulder at the same time.”

Ms. Ehrlich recommends weekly massages for the pain. Gentle stretching and warm baths with Epsom salts can help bag abusers, too, she said. But she would never tell a client to ditch her Mulberry Elgin tote.

“It’s like telling a woman, ‘You cannot wear Manolo Blahniks,’ ” she said. “It’s just not realistic.”

On this point, the experts tend to agree. Marta Callotta, a chiropractor in Long Beach, Calif., said that she advises patients to clean out their purses once a week, and to use all the pockets so that the weight is dispensed evenly within the bag.

“At the end of the day, handbags are one of the biggest culprits for back pain right now,” she said. “For a year patients have been coming in to me with these giant purses and complaints of soreness. This will keep happening until the trend dies down.”

Robyn Fishelson, a spokeswoman for Bliss Spa, which has branches in London and five American cities, said that this year all locations are reporting an increase in massage clients with bag-induced back pain. To them, Bliss recommends its 75-minute deep tissue treatment at $150, which is an intense sports massage.

Dr. David Golden, an orthopedic surgeon who practices sports medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Beverly Hills, Calif., said the effects of carrying a heavy purse are similar to those of exercising too strenuously. “The good news is, the pain will be temporary,” he said. “You usually need to carry 50 pounds or more to cause lasting back damage.”

Dr. Golden added, “As with an overly taxing workout, you can strain the muscles and induce joint pain if your bag is too heavy.” He recommended taking an anti-inflammatory, resting the injured muscles, and then starting over with a very light bag, “making sure you employ the correct form.” That means keeping the bulk of the purse toward the center of the body. The strap should rest close to the neck.

Who knew that fashion had so much in common with athletics? Perhaps this explains why loyal fans of outsize handbags tend to tick off their purse-induced woes like proud veterans of the football field.

“I’ve suffered major back, neck and shoulder pain from carrying heavy bags,” said Kimberly Whalen, 37, a literary agent in New York who recently bought the ubiquitous black Chanel carryall, which more than one fashion Web site has compared to a trash bag. “I’ve even had M.R.I.’s and cortisone treatments to help alleviate the problem.”

Sasha Charnin Morrison, 42, the fashion director at US Weekly, admitted that her bags are so large that she often gets stuck in revolving doors. “They may not be practical, but so what?” she said. “When it comes to fashion, being practical is a huge bore.”

For years, Ms. Charnin Morrison pointed out, women complained that designer bags were too small to hold anything. “Well, the designers are finally listening up,” she said. “If you go to Yves Saint Laurent or Prada or Tod’s or Chanel or Hermès this season, there are three different versions of the same bag: mini, regular and oversize.”

She said the last word as if she were describing seeing a unicorn — magical, beautiful, altogether perfect.

Ms. Charnin Morrison said she alternated between the Yves Saint Laurent Muse, the Miu Miu Coffer, the Chloé Paddington (notorious for its half-pound padlock) and the Chloé Gladys, which measures 16 by 17 by 6, and is, she said, “so heavy that some days I don’t think I’m going to make it to the end of the block.”

Dr. Erickson, the chiropractor in Manhattan, said there are ways to minimize the damage. Instead of always carrying a bag on the same side, women should switch back and forth. Because many women have a habit of unconsciously lifting the shoulder that has the purse on it to keep the straps from slipping, she suggests making an effort to square your shoulders. Or carry the bag in front of you. “It’s not exactly glamorous, but if at the end of a long day you find your shoulders aching, slip the bag off and carry it in front of your body with both arms like it’s an infant,” she said.

The American Chiropractic Association recommends that a handbag weigh no more than 10 percent of its owner’s body weight. Given that so many slim women seem to be in violation of this guide, it raises the question: What exactly are they carrying in there?

“The bigger the bag, the more I seem to need to bring with me,” said Gloria Dawson, a 25-year-old photo editor in New York. “I carry an iPod, a book, a backup magazine in case the book doesn’t go over well, makeup, a phone, my wallet, extra shoes and workout clothes, most of which I won’t even need, but it’s nice to know that it’s there.”

Chloe Thompson, 24, is used to the back pain caused by carrying big bags, but she suffered a different kind of sting in July, when her Lucky Brand slouch bag was stolen during a reunion at Brown University. “I had over $2,000 worth of stuff in that bag,” said Ms. Thompson, who works in retail analysis for Cynthia Vincent, a fashion company in New York, “my iPod, digital camera, cellphone, glasses, sunglasses, makeup kit and a ton of other belongings, including a Care Bear that I’ve had since I was born.”

Because she lost so much property, Ms. Thompson found that the theft was actually covered by her homeowner’s insurance. But before she could collect any money, she had to convince the insurance adjuster that it was possible to fit everything into a single bag.

“The woman was shocked that I could cram so much into a purse,” she recalled. “I had to explain to her that this was no ordinary-size handbag.”

thank you for this article. it is a reminder on not to overload, how much is too much ...but if you do what are the best ways to manage it.

I wonder if women requested oversize bags come with wheels... if it would chic enough to tote about? as bigger bags have gotten fashionable since women want them.

would anyone like their ovesized bag to come with wheels?
Thanks for this very interesting article. I have a very short story about heavy bags, but it was all the fashion when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I am now 50 years old, but this story made me recall that way back then, it was very fashionable to have the biggest bag you could find, and not only that, it was most important that you fill it to the brim with everything that you could think of. My girlfriend even put a BRICK in hers so hers could be the heaviest. We would all gather around and compare what we were carrying around. It was like a scavenger hunt. I can't believe I am remembering this, but it was so funny!!! Oh, and we had wooden "tiki" charms dangling off our purses because those were very "in", too. I went to Catholic school, and the nuns would make us take off our charms when they would see them. Wow.....thanks for the 40-year old memories!!! :rolleyes: :rolleyes:
Thanks for posting the article.

I tend to carry a really large bag everyday for work, but I haven't encountered any of the pains mentioned in the article. Sometimes I think I would love to carry something much smaller, but a little bag simply doesn't fit everything that I need to carry with me to work everyday.
I'm amazed that people carry so much in their oversized bags, as just because they are very large, it doesn't mean that you are supposed to fill them. If they also bought an oversized top, would they intentionally gain lots of weight to fill it, too?!! :shrugs: :lol:

Slouchy, oversized bags are only designed to be about 1/3 full, at most and these women are not only running the risk of ruining their health, but also of permanently distorting their designer bags! :shocked:

Personally, I generally try to only carry slightly more in a large, slouchy bag than I would in a large clutch and I put a lot of it in the internal pocket. When I (as rarely as possible) carry a laptop, I try to carry a bag that has been designed to hold one, not just a random big bag, as without the proper support, a soft leather bag will be ruined.

I also tend to choose bags on the basis that the bigger the bag, the less hardware it should have (to keep the weight down). :smile:

As I'm sure is very clear from my bag choices, I love fashion and am not at all adverse to large bags, or embellishment; but, IMO, for a design to be considered truly excellent, form must, primarily, follow function. :yes:
I find that I also need to carry lots of items for work, so I generally buy and carry larger bags. But on the plus side, the more often I change bags, the more I weed things out and stick just to the essentials (well, what I think of as essentials anyway.) My husband still thinks that my purses weigh a ton. And on the weekends I can go with the smaller purses.

But I love the article - do physical therapists ever go after mens' briefcases?
But I love the article - do physical therapists ever go after mens' briefcases?

Great point. I bet physical therapists and chiropractors *love* briefcases even more than they love Chloé Paddingtons. My husband actually uses a plastic-sided carry-on with wheels by Rimowa instead of a briefcase. He just pulls the case behind him -- even on/off the subway.

Interesting article! I was recently "fitted" at a running store for new shoes. (During a fitting, all sorts of things are examined that could affect your running stride - height, weight, the way you walk, hip, shoulder ratio). He said that my right shoulder was higher than my left - probably caused by me carrying my bag on that side (I rarely switch sides). It's true - be careful!
Ouch - definitely switch shoulders every once in a while, especially with big bags. I know that they recommend it for children who carry their backpacks on one shoulder, so women (myself included) who carry heavier bags should do it to.

But good for you for running gee!
oh God... i know, i really2 have to start un-loading my bags :P
but sometimes i have to carry lots of things for work. like today, i filled up my balenciaga weekender with wardrobes that i have to present with client and i also carry my bal first for my wallet and stuffs.
the road's been getting so busy that i have to be in places at 1 go...
Luckily, I haven't suffered any ill effects of carrying a big bag...yet. I remember the first couple of days of carrying a large shoulder bag (I had been carrying a handheld bag previously) I did get a little sore, but I guess I got used to it. I don't have any trouble now.
Thanks for the article. I only carry handbags (unless it's a messanger bag) but this does explain why my one arm is more sore than the other esp. behind my shoulder.

If I carry my LV shopping Sac for months on end, my back really hurts. Now that I've been switching out my bags, I weed out more stuff and it shifts everything around. I think that has been the best thing for my back.
Ok not really funny story- but right along this article... my mom had to go to physical therapy for her shoulder because of her Gucci Horsebit Hobo she carried. She is not 100% sure her shoulder got hurt from that- but she stuffed that bag and carried it all around NYC on vacation and started having awful shoulder pain after... just something to keep in mind!

Thanks for posting this coachwife!