Is Your Handbag Causing You Back, Neck And Shoulder Pain?

Happy female college student with books on university campus

By Osteopath Nadia Alibhai

Osteopath, Nadia Alibhai

Osteopath, Nadia Alibhai

Shopping can be lots of fun but dragging heavy shopping bags around can leave you feeling achy. Let’s begin by talking about your handbag. Carrying a heavy handbag on one shoulder can cause your centre of gravity to shift to one side and the trapezius muscle on your upper back to over contract and become stiff. After a long day of shopping your shopping bags can add to this stiffness.

Here are some tips you can use to decrease the adverse effects of carrying bags when shopping:

  1. Reduce the load of your handbag
Woman unpacking large handbag

Pic: iStockphoto

This may seem obvious, but reducing the load in your handbag can lessen the strain on your neck and shoulders. Try doing a weekly check of your bag such as emptying out receipts, papers and unnecessary items you don’t need.

  1. Take a shopping bag on wheels

This is becoming a trend as you may see personal shoppers and stylists wheeling them around department stores. Remember to swap sides through the day by pulling with your left and right hand as well as pushing it in front of you like a pushchair.

  1. Try a cross body handbag

Rather than loading one side of your body with a heavy weight in the form of a shoulder bag, try using a cross body bag to better distribute the weight.

  1. Try carrying a back pack
Happy female college student with books on university campus

Pic: iStockphoto

You are probably rolling your eyes at this option, but there are many elegant back packs to choose from these days. Opting for a two-strap bag can significantly reduce the amount of strain a large bag with one strap can cause. Back packs evenly distribute the load through the body.

  1. Try carrying your bag on the opposite shoulder

If you find the cross body hold uncomfortable, try wearing your handbag on the opposite shoulder. This may not be easy to get used to, but swapping sides periodically can help distribute the load and decrease the strain and asymmetry of your body.

  1. Keep the bags balanced

If you have shopped till you dropped and have more than one bag to carry, try keeping the bags balanced on your left and right hand sides. In addition, make sure the weight of each bag is even on each side.

  1. Dynamic Bags

Nadia with handbag with multi-purpose strap

Try using a bag with different strap options. Swapping between cross body, on the shoulder, and top handle bags can offer rest to those often overused upper trapezius muscles.


8. Exercises

At the end of the day, don’t forget your daily neck and shoulder stretches to help undo the tightness caused by carrying bags. Take a few minutes at the end of each day to feel which muscles on your body feel tender and tight, then carry out the relevant stretches. Here is my favourite stretch for the trapezius muscle which tends to tighten up when carrying handbags on one side.

Nadia doing upper trap stretch

Trapezius stretch:

I like to do this stretch when I am on my way home on the Tube from a shopping trip. This stretch is best done seated on a chair.

  1. Gently and with ease, take your right ear towards your right shoulder. It’s natural for your left shoulder to lift as you do this. To prevent this, you can hold on to the edge of your chair with your left hand.
  2. Lift your right hand up and over your head, resting your hand on your left cheekbone. Do not pull on your head though. Simply rest your hand there for just slightly more pressure. This stretches your upper trapezius muscle very gently.
  3. Breathe as you stretch for approximately 30 seconds.
  4. Gently release this side, and then ease your left ear toward your left shoulder and complete the stretch on the other side, breathing deeply through it.
  5. You can repeat this on each side 2 to 3 times at the end of the day.


For more of Nadia’s tips you can visit her website on or watch her videos on Instagram @nadiatheosteopath



Moira Chisholm

I'm the Health Editor on My Weekly and am always interested to hear what's new in this fascinating field. I also deal with the gardening, shopping pages, general features, our website content and the Ask Helen problem page. I have a special interest in Christmas content because I'm on the team for Your Best Ever Christmas Magazine, too!