Overfilling Your Pack Hurts Your Back

On November 8, 2007, the Tampa Tribune published the following article on the health hazards of heavy backpacks, book bags, purses, etc. Dr. Robert Pedowitz, Chair of the Department of Orthopedics & Sports Medicine, USF College of Medicine, was interviewed for the story. Dr. Pedowitz is a published author on numerous issues related to orthopedics, orthopedic surgery and sports medicine.

To view story as it appeared in Tribune, click here.

Tampa Tribune
“Overfill Your Pack, And You’ll Hurt Your Back”
Tribune Reporter Patty Kim
Published: November 8, 2007

University of Tampa business marketing student Stephanie Camacho is learning one lesson the hard way. Commuting from Northdale means hauling her belongings – which can weigh 19 pounds or more — across campus from her parking spot.

Her trusty laptop bag and computer weigh in at 10 pounds, and her book bag — full of books, binders, a phone, wallet, keys and more — is almost as heavy.

“Normally I carry my laptop by hand because it kills my shoulder,” says Camacho, 18. “I carry my other bag on my other shoulder, but I feel the pain.”

They’re aches that can lead to pricey chiropractic adjustments. And Camacho is not unusual.
Lori A. Tindall, director of placement and recruiting at Administrative Partners in Tampa, regularly juggles an oversized purse and laptop bag on her way from a parking garage several blocks away. It can be a challenge, she says. “I carry too much stuff,” says Tindall. “We are all pack mules, even our children. I’m very concerned about their back health.”

Are you packing on extra pounds in the form of laptop bags and oversized purses or messenger bags and paying the price for it? If you’re experiencing persistent pain in your neck, shoulders and lower back, you could be. Tennis elbow and wrist problems also abound.

“Most of the time, these types of problems can be solved by changing the activity or getting in better physical condition,” says Robert A. Pedowitz, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Orthopedics and Sports Medicine at the University of South Florida. “If the public is aware of the problem and makes a connection between what they’re doing and their symptoms, that’s the first step. Then they can generally correct it themselves.”

He should know. Pedowitz spends much of his time traveling, often lugging a heavy laptop in a briefcase. Pedowitz had back surgery in 1992 for chronic pain.

Now he uses carry-on luggage to wheel around airports. “It makes a huge difference. I’ve significantly decreased my back pain after a long trip,” he says.

If you find yourself slumping from the extra weight you’re carrying around every day, your spine could be in trouble, says physical therapist Gregory Todd, co-owner of Renewal Rehab in south Tampa and Wesley Chapel. About half of his new patients are suffering from back pain related to heavy loads, he says.
Your posture should take into account the C curve of your midback and the reverse curves of your upper and lower back. Strain those curves and you’re asking for trouble, Todd says.

Save yourself the aches and pains with these tips:
Design is more important than you think. If you’re hauling a heavy load, look for a bag that carries most of the weight near your spine, or the center of your body, which means less stress, Pedowitz says. His top recommendation is a dual-strap bag.
Messenger bags are OK if you carry most of the weight on your butt as opposed to one side. Large purses and bags that you carry on one shoulder or by hand are the worst offenders, Pedowitz says. “They can strain your hand, wrist, elbow and shoulder,” he says.
“Another problem is the expectation that we should be carrying that much weight around in the first place,” Pedowitz says. “With women, I see them carrying around purses filled with all sorts of stuff. I have to wonder, is all that stuff inside there really necessary?”
And don’t let your child, whose spine and extremities are still growing, tote a ton of books, Pedowitz says. If you can’t lighten the load, wheel it around instead.
If all else fails and you still can’t part with an ounce of extra stuff, head to the gym and bump up your strength conditioning. Hit the weights to build up your shoulders, arms and back, Pedowitz says. Todd recommends Pilates to strengthen the entire core, including your back. You’ll have a healthy routine in the bag in no time.

International business and finance student at University of Tampa

She commutes from Brandon and always has a purse — with a prayer rug, wallet, cell, calculator, brush, keys and more — and stuffed backpack filled with books, binders and a laptop. It’s no surprise that she experiences back and shoulder pain.
“I gotta have my stuff. I guess it’s my way of keeping myself in shape,” Al-Deen says. “But I think it affects my posture. I always bend forward trying to balance myself.”
Dead weight: Backpack, 16 pounds; purse, 4 pounds

Business marketing student at University of Tampa

She commutes from Northdale with a laptop bag and another bag with her books, binders, wallet, keys, phone and more.
“I used to go to a chiropractor for back pain in high school,” Camacho says. “Normally I carry my laptop bag by hand because it kills my shoulder. I carry my other bag on my other shoulder, but I feel the pain.”
Dead weight: Bag, 9 pounds; laptop bag, 10 pounds

DTI messenger for Holland & Knight

He typically carries a large black messenger bag across his body with everything from his lunch to his daily planner to work notes.
“It gives me a workout, actually. I’m used to it,” says Escalante, who usually has a 20-minute walk from a downtown parking garage in to work. “I haven’t had any problems.”
Dead weight: 10 pounds

First Rate Mortgage

He lugs a laptop bag with his computer, notes and folders over one shoulder. He balances it with an iced coffee.
“It’s light today. From here to the car, it’s usually bearable,” Milanes says of his two-minute walk. “I go to the gym in the evenings, and I think that helps.”
Dead weight: 10 pounds

Director of placement and recruiting for Administrative Partners in Tampa.

She normally lugs around an oversized purse and a laptop bag.
“I carry too much stuff in my purse,” Tindall says. “Sometimes I notice problems, especially when I park at Fort Brooke. It’s tough to make it sometimes. We are all pack mules, even our children. I’m very concerned about their back health.”
Dead weight: 4.5 pounds