When Fashion Causes Pain

As a woman, I love my shoes, especially my four inch purple patent-leather heels.  My favorite handbag is not the diaper bag that I am normally carrying, but my 15-inch tote.  So on the occasion that I have a girls’ night out and have shed the sneakers and diaper bag, the next morning I notice that I have increased back and foot pain. As a physical therapist, I can explain why some fashion choices can cause pain, but I can also give you some tips on how to address the problem.

The negative effects related to wearing heels include increased incidence of sprained ankles, low back pain and leg pain.  High heels create unstable posture, which increases the compressive forces in the low back. The change in posture leads to compensatory muscle firing that can cause discomfort and fatigue.

Purses cause similar body mechanics issues.  We love our very large handbags that on occasion have been known to double as luggage or a diaper bag.  Doctors say that they’re treating more people for elbow, shoulder and neck pain due to the latest trend of carrying giant handbags.

Wearing heavy handbags over one shoulder causes uneven weight distribution across the back and may restrict blood flow at the shoulder. Heavy purses and unpadded shoulder straps place extra pressure on the nerves of the neck and shoulders and can result in pain, tingling, stiffness, numbness and tightness in the neck, shoulders and low back. 

The American Occupational Therapy Association offers several strategies for selecting and packing a purse:

  • Avoid heavily loaded tote-style bags worn over the shoulder.
  • Avoid handbags made of heavy material such as leather; select bags made of lighter materials such as fabric.
  • Avoid thin and long straps – they should be wide and adjustable.
  • Eliminate unnecessary contents.
  • Regularly empty your wallet of coins and unused cards.
  •  Use travel sized items such as lotions and hand sanitizers.
  • Leave keys that you do not use on a regular basis at home.
  • Place the strap diagonally across the opposite shoulder to help distribute the weight across the back (Cross body bags are designed to be worn this way.).

As a general rule, handbags should not weigh more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight. For example, a 100-pound female’s purse should not weigh more than 15 pounds. This applies to moms toting huge diaper bags as well! A back friendly alternative to a handbag or diaper bag is a backpack. Backpacks are available in many fashionable colors, sizes and styles.

So for an occasional date night or girls’ night out, strap on the stilettos, but for your normal routine, stick to flats or heels less than one-inch high.  As for giant handbags, lighten up: these days our smart phones can do almost anything!

If you are experiencing neck, back or shoulder pain, a physical therapist can start you on a treatment program to alleviate your discomfort. Contact Good Shepherd at 1-888-447-3422, or Request an Appointment.


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