Is Your Backpack or Purse Hurting Your Back?

Carrying a hefty bag is pretty much part of modern living. Jam-packed briefcases are slung cross body; heavy backpacks dip into the lumbar spine; even everyday carry purses can weigh upwards of 10 pounds. Is it a coincidence that we are living with more back pain than ever? Absolutely not.

Now, heavy bags aren’t alone in bearing the weight of blame. Excessive sitting and lack of regular, traditionally human exercise have made us weak, tight and stiff. But the way we carry things is not helping.

Studies have shown that carrying heavy backpacks on a regular basis—you know, those 20+ pound monstrosities most kids lug to school everyday—can actually make you shrink. It compresses the spinal cord, which both causes a slight loss in height while leading to significant long term back pain. That heavy load can also lead to abnormal postural and gait tendencies as well as degenerative knee pain that may require surgery and a relearning of posture in the future.

And what about purses or shoulder bags? Those aren’t any better. Any woman knows that a heavy purse always worn on the same side can lead to uneven posture and imbalanced shoulder development. It can actually throw off your natural gait entirely, leading to issues not just of the back or shoulders, but the hips, knees and feet as well. Some women tend to develop frequent tension headaches simply because they have been carrying a too-heavy purse over one shoulder for too long.

Our bags are hurting us, but is there a better way? Yes, but it’s a lot more, erm, traditional. Backpacks and bags generally go wrong because they distribute their weight onto our shoulders or hips. Sure, you could opt for a rolling bag and take loads of stress of your body—the glory of the wheel—but biomechanically, the best place to carry any sort of weight on your body is atop your head. You’ve seen the National Geographic photos of perfectly poised African women in developing countries carrying huge baskets on their head. It sounds silly, but weight atop your head is easily dispersed evenly along the spine, preventing excess energy use or injury. Head carrying techniques make heavy loads feel lighter and easier to carry while actually preventing injury. How can you integrate this into your daily life? Take the tumpline.

tumpline: (Algonquian origin) A sling formed by a strap slung over the forehead or chest used for carrying a pack on the back or in hauling loads”  

Essentially, it is just a looped strap that goes under a load and crosses atop one’s head. Rather than bearing down asymmetrically or symmetrically on the shoulders as we do with modern innovations, the tumpline channels it directly where the body was designed to channel it… along the cushy curves of the spine. If you are carrying anything in excess of 20 pounds, consider strapping the weight atop your head to prevent injury and fatigue while improving strength. Outdoor brand Duluth actually sells a tumpline on their website that can easily be attached to a soft body backpack.

Think a tumpline wouldn’t suit your modern lifestyle ? Think again. Patagonia-founder Yvon Chouinard regularly uses a tumpline. Yes, his company actually manufactures high tech outdoor gear, yet he still prefers to distribute weight down his spine with a cheap and simple strap. Years ago, Chouinard suffered from insufferable back pain. After using a tumpline on a few expeditions, not only was his pain gone, but his back was stronger and more stable. More than any modern exercise, the use of a tumpline actually helps to improve the longevity of the spine and back health. And if someone as cool as Yvon Chouinard can pull one off, you’ll be fine.

Used worldwide, from the Congo to the Himalaya, there is a reason that traditional cultures still prefer the tumpline, even when faced with modern pack innovation. It just works. The question is, would you be daring enough to eschew modern convention and sling a wide tumpline across your head to support a heavy backpack?

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42 comments

Chad A
Chad A28 days ago

Wow, something to consider...

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

Very informative Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

Great information and advice Thank you for caring and sharing

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Glennis W
Glennis W29 days ago

Very interesting article Thank you for caring and sharing

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Kelsey S
Kelsey Sabout a month ago

Thanks

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Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a month ago

ty

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Vincent T
Past Member about a month ago

Thanks

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Amanda M
Amanda Mabout a month ago

I must be a mutant female, because I've been a member of the "Pockets Club" for years now, meaning if I can't carry it in a pocket, I don't need it in the first place, especially since I live in pants. One pocket holds my keys, another holds my wallet, a third holds my cash (if I have any, which I usually don't because stay-at-home moms don't rate a paycheck for whatever STUPID reason), another holds the bandanna I carry for mopping sweat off on hot days (I sweat like a pig in the heat and always have-YUCK), and my cell phone (flip phone) and non-latex gloves (I'm a volunteer firefighter/EMT) are in cases on my belt. Simple and hassle-free. For me, a purse is just another useless female trapping that I have to worry about getting lost, stolen, robbed, or forgotten.

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Marija M
Marija Mabout a month ago

thank you

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Teresa A
Teresa Aabout a month ago

Noted. Thanks.

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