Real Talk: Can Carrying A Bag Ruin Your Posture?

mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor By Ray Bass, NASM-CPT
mbg Associate Movement & Wellness Editor

Ray Bass is the associate movement and wellness editor at mindbodygreen and a NASM-Certified Personal Trainer. She holds a degree in creative writing from the University of Pennsylvania, with honors in nonfiction.

Image by Aleksandra Kovac / Stocksy

Unless you're the ultimate minimalist or have pants with superior pockets, you probably carry a bag around for at least part of your day. And if that bag has your laptop, charger, lunch, hand sanitizer, wallet, cosmetics, water bottle, and so on, it can get heavy real fast. If you've ever felt shoulder pain from carrying your bag, you know what I mean.

And while we're mostly concerned about the pain when our shoulder or back starts to hurt, there's another reason you should think before hauling around a huge bag—your posture. Here's why.

Posture is all about alignment.

Being in or "having," good posture means that we're maintaining the natural curvatures in our spine and activating the muscles that keep us upright. Our bones are aligned, the right muscles are activated, and we sit up straight with ease. But what's important to note is that posture is specifically about symmetrical alignment. When you're misaligned or thrown off by another force, gravity or otherwise, your posture is compromised.

"The more load you have on your body, the more your body has to fight that asymmetry," says Sarah Kostyukovsky, P.T., DPT, OCS. "So it's more ideal to be carrying around less during the day than more."

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Carrying a bag on one side of your body is a posture no-no.

If we're meant to stay balanced and aligned, then, naturally, putting more weight on one side of the body is going to take us out of proper posture. It tips one side of the scale, if you will. Carrying a heavy bag on one side pulls us into an asymmetrical position, which is definitely not ideal.

That said, if you consistently work on your shoulder and upper-back strength (which you should if you want to maintain good posture), it'll be harder to throw your alignment off.

"If you have the strength to maintain your symmetry, then you'll be fine," Kostyukovsky says. "But if you don't, then you'll put stress on your body."

What's the best type of bag for your posture?

The reality is that, regardless of our posture, we still need to carry our bags. Fortunately, not all bags are created equal—and some can actually benefit your posture.

If we're ranking them (which I've decided we are), here's the leaderboard:

1) A backpack

2) A cross-body bag

3) A lightweight shoulder bag

4) A medium-weight shoulder bag

5) Why are you considering No. 5? Opt for 1 through 4.

A backpack or cross-body bag will be a more symmetrical load on your body, which is preferable to a shoulder bag, regardless of the weight. Bonus points if your backpack has straps and isn't just a fashion statement. If it does have straps, make sure you use them to secure your backpack to your back. The closer it is to your body, the less stress you put on your spine.

According to Kostyukovsky, "The straps need to be tighter to your back, so your bag is closer to your back, because that's easier for your body to control than if the backpack is not supported closely to you." She recommends choosing a backpack with chest and waist straps since they secure the backpack to you even more, which means more support.

So if you're on a quest for better posture, it's time to say "See ya!" to the shoulder bag and pull your backpack out of storage. What you carry every day can make a huge difference in your alignment and your overall physical health. And if you're already wearing a backpack, good for you—tell all your tote-toting friends you're the captain now.

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