Shoulder Bags and Backpacks

I want to talk about backpacks, briefcases, shoulder bags, man bags, laptop bags…yes, what we carry around with us on a daily basis.

According to 2012 report about Musculoskeletal Pain Disorders from the Center for Disease Control (CDC), over 20 percent of American adults suffered from lower back pain, more than 14 percent suffered from neck pain and almost 10 percent struggled with sciatica.

If you want to ensure the best possible health for your spine while carrying around half your home, then you need to make sure you have the proper kit and you are wearing it correctly.

I get asked numerous times should I use a backpack or a shoulder bag?
Is a shoulder bag or a backpack the best for preventing back pain?
Which one, a shoulder bag or a backpack, is worse for back pain?

I know messenger bags/shoulder bags are generally more fashionable when it comes to which one you would prefer to wear…

BUT
If you care about your lower back health, then you can definitely afford to go for form over fashion in this case.

Too many times, I see people with their laptop bags hanging from one shoulder, leaning over to the one side, with their spine all out of whack.

middle aged man wearing shoulder bag with neck and shoulder pain

Depending on the weight of your shoulder bag, carrying it predominantly on one shoulder can cause the opposite side of your spine to spasm, leading to tightness and pain in your lower back and sacrum.

You are putting undue stress on your problem area that you do not need to be doing and increased muscle activity has been linked with back pain and injury.

man wearing shoulder bags with lower back pain

Researchers looked at different bags and strap configurations and the use of a one sided messenger bag, brief case, purse etc resulted in increased lateral bending of the thoracic spine, excessive rotation of the cervical spine, hip stress, increased trapezius muscle activity all of which effect the stresses going through the lower back and can lead to the onset of pain.

What are some common problems associated with messenger/shoulder bags?

– Muscle tightness

– Backaches

– Decreased curve of the neck due to tightness, sometimes known as “military neck”

– Neck pain that causes the turning of the head to be difficult

– Headaches

Wait, what’s that you say?

“But Colin, it’s Gucci…I can’t not wear it…”

Okay if you really must insist on using it, then at least switch shoulders so you are not always wearing it across the same shoulder.

This will at least break up the stress placed on that area throughout the day
If you really want to minimize the aggravation on your lower back, then use a backpack instead of a shoulder bag.

And yes Gucci, D and G, and Prada make those as well

Backpacks distribute the weight that you are carrying evenly across your back instead of placing all of the stress on one side. This maintains your body’s natural gait, as well as a balanced muscle tone.

middle aged man on phone whilst wearing business backpack

Now, while backpacks are generally better, they too can cause problems.

Carrying too heavy of a load can force your spine to bend backwards, causing you to pull forward to maintain balance. This action can make your spine compress unnaturally, which can create hip and back pain and a hunched posture.

We don’t want that!

You don’t need to buy the most expensive backpack on the market to prevent injury.

What are some important points to be aware of when purchasing and using backpacks?

• Do pay attention to proper posture: Keep your ears above your shoulders, your shoulders back, your chest open, and make sure your back stays straight.

• Do lift your bag up from the ground by bending your knees. Don’t just bend over, as this will put more strain on the lower back.

• Do choose a bag with wider straps that will further distribute the weight across your back and shoulders.

• Do pack only what is necessary.

• Do wear and tighten both straps of the backpack to distribute weight evenly.

• Do use a waist or chest strap if your backpack has one.

• Do pack heavier items closer to the center of the bag.

What are some things to avoid when purchasing or wearing a backpack?

• Don’t think bigger is better a major error is buying a backpack that is too large, which encourages overloading.

• Don’t wear only one strap of the backpack. This shifts weight to one side.

• Don’t let your backpack hang more than four inches below your waistline. This reduces pressure on your shoulders and protects posture.

• Don’t let your backpack weigh more than 10 percent of your body weight when it is full. Heavier backpacks cause you to bend forward to support the weight, straining your back and neck.


If you really want to help lessen your lower back pain, then you have to start modifying those daily activities which can increase stress and pain.

Forget the fashion for just a moment and go functionality!

Learning how to support yourself in daily activities is a useful tool in reducing your back/sciatica pain and below you can check out my support video with lots of useful tips.


If you are struggling with chronic lower back pain/sciatica check out my new recovery course coming soon.

Have a great day and if this article has been useful please comment and share.

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