Experts: Heavy Totes are Great Health Risks [And Ways to Solve the Dilemma!]


We strive for a positive public opinion because we have started to believe that we are what people think we are. — Jacqueline Pearce, MSEd, LMHC

Oversized totes and shoulder bags are a woman’s best buddy especially moms. They exactly have the space to carry everything we need when we’re outside the comfort of our homes. They’re not exactly easy to lug around but who cares, right? As long as we have our essentials with us then, we’re good to go. WRONG!

The Health Risk of carrying Heavy Totes and Shoulder Bags

“Women should care about the weight of their purses,” says NY orthopedic surgeon Dr. Sabrina Strickland. “Carrying a heavy bag in one shoulder means you have to lift that shoulder up or lean a little on the other side to keep it up causing your spine to curve. The longer you carry the bag, the longer you’re holding your spine in a curved way.”



This spine misalignment results to back, neck and shoulder pains. It also causes joint strains. Finally, it can worsen spine-related health problems like herniated discs.

Aside from health concerns, a study conducted in 2013 found out that carrying a shoulder bag, a tote or even a handbag on one side out of habit significantly affects the way the bag wearer walks causing the researchers to recommend “avoiding carrying bags on one side only.”

Well, I know of no woman who goes around without carrying a bag with her so, how do we remedy this problem? Dr, Strickland and other health experts offer this advice.

People pleasers generally fear conflict. They may believe, in fact, that if someone isn’t happy with them, they’ve fundamentally failed somehow. — Joshua Nash, LPC-S

Health-Friendly ways to Carry that Bag

1. It’s time to lighten up!

The 2013 study cited above suggests that a bag’s load should not go beyond 10% of the carrier’s weight to be considered healthy. It means that if you weigh 120 pounds, your tote’s overall content shouldn’t exceed 12 pounds.

But the New York doctor insists on a much lighter load and puts the cap on 6-7 pounds.

“Anywhere beyond that and you should consider using a second bag,” she urges.

So, how will you find your everyday bag’s weight? Follow the steps you do when weighing your luggage before a flight.

  • Step on the weighing scale wearing your bag with all its contents. Record the number.
  • Step on the weighing scale again, this time bag-less. Record the number.
  • Subtract the second number from the first. The answer you get is more or less the exact weight of your bag.

2. Switch sides when carrying your bag from time to time.

Periodically switch your bag from your right shoulder to your left shoulder or vice versa, depending on your dominant side. Carrying a tote or shoulder bag from the side where you’re most used to to the other can be uncomfortable at first, but you’ll eventually get used to it over time.

3. Start thinking about using backpacks.

Totes and shoulder bags aren’t the only kinds of bags in the world. Moreover, experts agree that a backpack is your best option – ergonomically-wise and practicality-wise. Backpacks distribute your bag’s weight evenly on your shoulders [that is, unless, the straps are misaligned].


“But backpacks are too preppy!” you may say. Don’t despair! The fashion market has seen the rise of chic backpacks aimed at women these past few years. I’m sure you’ll find something stylish that’ll just suit your taste.

Alternatively, cross-body bags are better than shoulder bags though only to a certain extent.

“They can still cause neck strains if heavy,” Dr. Strickland clarifies.

I believe an unfortunate confluence of cultural beliefs and technological advances have come together to rob us of our ability to be present and in tune with ourselves, necessary components to feeling “okay.” — Tai Pimputkar, MSW, LCSW

4. Strengthen your core muscles.

If your core muscles – the muscles in your back, around your pelvis and your abdomen – are solid, there’s a great chance your posture won’t be affected, and you won’t have alignment problems even when your purse leans on the heavy side.

So, it’s time to amp up your core-strengthening workout — oblique/slanted and back exercises as well as planks and sit-ups.