The Problem with Your Purse: Bad Knees, Elbow, Neck and Spine

“Fashion knows no pain,” a line probably coined by a fashion designer. You know it’s not true, if only based on your personal experience with high heels, neckties or backpacks. Purses and handbags are another place where fashion absolutely can cause you pain. How many of the following do you carry daily in a handbag or purse: wallet, phone, computer, keys, makeup, water bottle, notebook, diary, pens, pencils, workout clothes, gym shoes, umbrella…?

“Carrying a heavy handbag can have short-term and long-term health issues,” says McLeod Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Rodney Alan. “Headaches, Neck and shoulder pain can be triggered by weighty handbags. Long-term stress on joints can sprain elbows and cause osteoarthritis in your knees, leading to a need for total joint replacement.” Heavy bags carried on one shoulder cause a change in your balance, stance and the way you walk. Tired muscles can’t hold the spine straight, increasing the strain on your body.


Most experts suggest a purse weigh no more than 10% of your body weight or 10 pounds, whichever is more. As a guide, a gallon of milk weighs a bit over 8 pounds. (We’ll pause here, while you run and weigh your handbag or compare it to a gallon of milk.)


  • If your bag is too heavy, switch shoulders regularly.
  • Pull the strap over your head to the other shoulder so that both sides of the body are carrying the weight. Or pull the bag around so that it hangs in front of you.
  • Try to find a bag with an adjustable shoulder strap; avoid chain handles.
  • Use a bag that is shaped and has compartments so items inside will not shift easily.
  • If you have shoulder, back or neck pain when you get home, use ice on the sore spot for 5 to 10 minutes. (Applying heat will intensify the inflammation.)
  • The Arthritis Foundation has more tips to help you create a “Painless Purse.? 


Yes, you want to be fashionable. However, a purse or handbag that is too heavy will affect your body and make you look old before your time. And that is not fashionable.

If you have muscle, spine or skeletal pain, see your Orthopedic Specialist for a diagnosis and treatment options, if needed.

Find an Orthopedic Specialist near you.

Sources include:  McLeod Health, National Institutes of Health, Arthritis Foundation, Rosalind Franklin Medical School, Bupa’s Centre for Sports Medicine, Washington University School of Medicine