Physical therapist says handbags don’t have to hurt

By Patricia B. Dwyer

Backaches and shoulder pain can be a season’s latest accessory — both spurring from their fashionable cousin, the handbag. Women hobble, adjust, and generally struggle, for the sake of looking good and carrying everything they might ever need with them at all times. To address the issue, Marcia Tassinari, founder of the Posture Biomechanics Foundation, hosted a seminar July 28 at St. Brigid Parish in Pacific Beach. Titled “Handbag Hazard: Connecting Fashion with Function,” the program was part of a monthly series of health and fitness lessons for everyday life. Tassinari received her Masters in Physical Therapy from the College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific in 1994. She specializes in the management and treatment of osteoporosis and osteopenia.

Tassinari discussed the different types of handbags and how to best wear them to limit strain on the body. Here are her tips for keeping back pain out of your handbag.

• Test your bag

There are five major points of alignment on the body: feet, pelvis, stomach, rib cage, and head. When the body is perfectly aligned, the feet are parallel, the pelvis tucked inward, the stomach and ribs lifted even with the shoulders, and the head level.

To test how your handbag affects your alignment, stand in front of a mirror while wearing the bag as you usually do and see how these five points of alignment appear.

Walk toward the mirror and freeze midstride, and note the position of the five points again.

Try to bend down and pick something up and pay attention to how you have to compensate for the shifting and swinging of your bag. The goal is to have a bag that affects your alignment as little as possible, thus straining the body as little as possible.

• Find the sweet spot

For side-slung bags with straps that cross the torso with the bag on the hip, the bag should sit somewhere between the pelvis and the hip. It’s in this area that the bag will receive the most natural support from the body without affecting its alignment.

Even if the bag rests a little toward the front or back of the body, the strap length should always leave the bag hanging on this sweet spot.

• Not too much depth

Any bag style with too much depth in the design will cause it to bulge further away from the body when it is full. This forces the bag to move or slip off the shoulder, and need constant readjustment. A good handbag should fit snug against the body.

• Different bags for different bodies

A handbag’s size and style should be proportional to the body carrying it. Find a bag that doesn’t look like it could crush you. Bags can never be too small or lightweight, but they can certainly be too big and heavy.

The straps should also hit the shoulders evenly and not slide around. Different styles will accomplish this for different bodies. The idea is for the bag to be as stable as possible and affect the body’s alignment as little as possible.

• Switch it up

For bags with one strap, switch the shoulder the strap is placed on periodically so one side of the body doesn’t get used to carrying all the weight or become worn down.

• Traveling bags

In luggage, a wheeling bag is best, with all the heaviest items placed on the bottom of the bag where the wheels are. When walking with the bag, keep the elbow straight and aligned with the side of the body.

• Styles for miles

The best handbags that affect alignment the least are: waist-packs that sit between the pelvis and hip, small backpacks that fit snuggly to the body, and bags with straps that fit across the torso.

For more information on Tassinari’s classes, e-mail her at