How many of you were taught that your wallet has to go in your back pocket? Despite being taught this, we were not told that stashing our stuff can strain our backs or joints excessively. Who knew that sitting on a bunch of folded bills or stashing coins and lip balm in a shoulder bag can wind up causing aching shoulders, back, and neck pain?
Rather than teach us how to live better, we had consumerism marketing masquerading as advice. The result: new purses were bought to help alleviate shoulder pain, and new jeans were purchased whenever the back pocket wore out.
How Does Carrying a Bag or Wallet Affect My Health?
Carrying heavy shoulder bags, sitting with a wallet in your back pocket, and even heavy backpacks have one major consequence in common: lopsided posture. Slipping your wallet into the back of your jeans or into your shoulder bag (which can also carry emergency bandages, spare pens, and the weight of a thousand other things to do) causes uneven weight distribution on the spine, hips, and shoulders. Sitting on your wallet with one hip higher than the other creates a lopsided tilt of the pelvis or the sitting bones (it is just like sitting on a book!) The thicker the wallet, the more tilt, which causes more strain. Something similar happens with a heavy purse: lopsided weight is consistently carried on one shoulder, weighing down one side compared to the other.
The result is a person sitting lopsided with a rounded, banana-shaped spine. This hunch-like position puts more stress on the back and spine and can even cause a slouchy posture with slumped shoulders. Muscles work harder to compensate, trigger points develop, and joints become stiff and achy.
Over time, sitting on a wallet or carrying a shoulder bag can also affect the nerves of our body. Carrying a heavy bag over the shoulder can strain the muscles and nerves of the neck in an area called the brachial plexus. Pinched nerves in this area can result in tingling and numbness down the arm, into the hand, and to the fingertips.
A similar effect happens when sitting on a wallet: the sciatic nerve gets pinched between your wallet, gluteal muscles, and hip. Even after a short time, the sciatic nerve can become irritated, causing discomfort that ‘zings’ down the back of the leg and into the heel. This condition is so commonplace that it has earned the nickname “wallet neuritis,” describing the inflammatory response that happens to the sciatic nerve due to sustained compression.
Even the thinnest wallet and lightest of shoulder bags can create these symptoms.
What Can I Do About It?
If you love your wallet or carrying a bag, all is not lost! Some simple changes in your daily routine will help you keep using your cute clutch, nifty clip, or the leather wallet you received as a birthday gift.
If you must carry a bag, keep it to just the essentials: pare down your carrying case to make it more lightweight. Less weight means less strain and less pain! Invest in a bag with a wide-banded strap that crosses diagonally over the torso if you can. This design helps balance weight between your shoulder blades, chest, and pelvis and even helps prevent theft by making your bag harder to steal. Consider switching to lighter gauge materials such as nylon, long-strand cotton, or canvas that are durable with wear and functional. If the fashion gods refuse to let you change, at least alternate shoulders to prevent one side from maintaining the bulk of the weight.
Waist bags (or fanny packs) are fantastic for avoiding the shoulder region altogether. Plus, there are many fashionable styles that are also functional!
For wallet users, your best bet is to remove it from your back pocket entirely before you sit down or get in your car. Ideally, switch your wallet to your front pocket, but be warned, prolonged use of a wallet in this position can also pinch a nerve between the thigh and torso, especially when you are in a car.
While at work, place the wallet in your desk, locker, or somewhere safe. You should also avoid anything bulky and stick to slim wallets or money clips that hold only the essentials.
The bare minimum advice is to alternate back pockets to carry your wallet. If you must use the back pocket to carry your wallet (or a similar object) at all. This helps evenly distribute the lopsidedness when sitting as well as wear-and-tear on your pants.
What If These Accommodations Are Not Enough?
Are you still experiencing pain? This is exactly what our doctors at MN Spine and Sport are great at treating! We will perform a detailed history of your injury, followed by a functional movement assessment and examination to get to the root of the issue.
If you have been carrying a purse or sitting on your wallet for many years, this may be a cause of shoulder pain, lower back pain, and even pelvic imbalances. We recommend scheduling a chiropractic visit in our Woodbury, MN clinic to evaluate any muscle aches, imbalances, or joint problems you may have. We will identify postural compensations, joint dysfunction, and abnormal movement patterns that result from wallet and shoulder bag ergonomics. Lastly, we will provide other alternatives to keep you functioning, feeling great, and returning to the activities you love!
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