People are used to hearing about ergonomics at work, especially in an office setting, but rarely think about the everyday items we use to carry our “stuff” that may contribute to physical discomfort and injury. The information below focuses on the ergonomics of what we use to carry our smart phones, computers, and other personal items.

Backpacks are used by people of all ages, especially school age to carry books and other items; unfortunately, they are often overloaded and packed incorrectly. This has contributed to an increase in reported back, shoulder, and neck pain among children and teenagers. A survey of more than 100 doctors conducted by Charles Alexander, MD, found that almost 60% reported seeing child patients with back and shoulder pain caused by heavy backpacks. Back pain in children and teenagers is very likely a precursor to low back pain as an adult.

  • Wear both straps over both shoulders to evenly distribute the weight of the backpack.
  • Put on and remove the backpack without excessive twisting.
  • Wear the backpack over the mid-back muscles. Loose-fitting straps cause the backpack to extend below the lower back area. Shoulder straps should not be too tight or restrict arm movement.
  • Keep the load of the backpack within 10-15% of the user’s body weight. Carry only what is needed and organize the contents by placing the heavier items closest to the back.

Purses have grown in size and weight and, as the saying goes, “the bigger the bag, the more stuff will fill it.” Single-strap purses cause uneven loading of the back muscles and restrict blood flow at the shoulder.

  • Keep purses as light as possible. Only carry what is essential.
  • Avoid thin straps, long straps, and chain handles.
  • Consider purses that offer organized pockets.
  • Consider wearing supportive shoes. High heels change gait and affect balance.
  • Regularly switch sides of the body when carrying or try to position the purse in front of the body.

Laptop bags are typically single-strap models, carried over one shoulder. The weight of the laptop and other bag contents can place considerable strain on the shoulder muscles, restrict blood flow, and pinch nerves. Carrying the bag on one shoulder has the same effect as carrying a heavy purse—uneven loading. Fortunately, laptop weights have been greatly reduced and continue to decrease.

  • Consider using a bag with wheels or a two-strap backpack, especially for longer distances.
  • Alternate carrying the bag by switching sides and holding it down close to the side.
  • If you travel frequently, consider the lightest laptop possible and carry only what is essential for the trip.
  • Avoid using a sling-style messenger bag.

Wallets may be smaller, but they can contribute to extreme pain in the low back. Sitting on a wallet in the back pocket can cause damage to key nerves in the back, such as the sciatic nerve. People who drive with their wallet in their back pocket can be at highest risk.

  • Always remove the wallet from the back pocket when sitting.
  • Carry only what is necessary.
  • Consider a thinner, smaller style wallet.