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Actual Injuries from Carrying Heavy Luggage (and How to Avoid Them)

Actual injuries from carrying heavy luggage

Here at Her Packing List, we’re big believers in packing light and traveling with carry-on luggage only when possible.

There are so many benefits to packing light, such as not paying checked luggage fees, not worrying that the airline will lose your luggage, and avoiding the dreaded repack at the check-in counter to name a few. But there’s another benefit you might not be thinking about.

Packing light is easier on your body.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 85,000 people were treated in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics for injuries related to luggage in 2017. Read more >>

Heavy luggage injuries are real! Carrying heavy luggage, whether schlepping around a suitcase or lugging a backpack can have lasting effects. Just one more reason to ditch the heavy luggage and pack less!

What is your physical health worth?

Airline fees for checked bags can’t compare to the costs of back, shoulder, and other injuries you might obtain from carrying heavy luggage.

When we spoke to Her Packing List readers we were shocked at the injuries some of them have experienced. From herniated spinal discs and carpal tunnel syndrome to long-lasting back, neck, and shoulder injuries.

All from traveling with over-packed, heavy luggage.

Jennifer developed painful sciatica from carrying a heavy backpack for a year

“I traveled for a year with a backpack that got increasingly heavy (and then a second bag with gifts). A few months later I developed rather painful sciatica. It lasted several months and even walking was difficult. Nine years later it’s not completely gone, but mostly. Rough to come home without insurance and just hope it heals.”

Kelsey pulled her abdominal muscles carrying 2 suitcases up 3 flights of stairs

“I was going to England for grad school for a year with two suitcases, one medium sized and not heavy and the other large and probably around 50 pounds. I don’t think anything in it was particularly heavy, but it was so big and I packed it pretty dense. At one point I had to carry it up 3 flights of stairs. At the time I thought the pain in my abdomen was my stomach, upset from stress and different food and water. However, now I’m pretty sure I pulled some of my abdominal muscles.

I had pain, often lasting a couple of hours, several times a week, probably for 2-3 weeks. Which obviously put a damper on my move and getting to meet people and explore a new place. I never sought medical attention for it either, I just tried to wait it out. The one thing I didn’t have in that suitcase was a heating pad which would have helped immensely in this case, ironically enough. In that bag, I had brought a lot of things I could have bought once I got to my destination but I didn’t want to spend more money.

Of course, I did have to pay to check that bag and didn’t end up using many of the things in it enough to make it worth it, not to mention the value of my health. I think in the future I’d pack a smaller bag and bring less, and wait and see more.

The Effects of Carrying Heavy Luggage on Your Body

In an interview with the NY Post, Dr. Charla Fischer, spine surgeon at NYU Langone’s Spine Center, highlighted the injuries that can occur from heavy luggage. She explained that excess weight puts pressure on spinal discs, which can lead to repetitive stress injuries, muscle strain, and even chronic pain.

In addition to this, Fischer says that holding long uncomfortable standing positions that twist your back with a backpack on (like when you’re crammed on a bus) is “a recipe for disaster when it comes to posture and back health“.

In an article on ABC News, Dr. Tiffany Yeh explained that heavy backpacks can cause wear and tear on joints, ligaments, and muscles across the entire back and hips.

Over long periods of time, these muscles may begin to degenerate. This can cause stiffness, a loss of range of motion, and pain which can spread to other parts of the body as other muscles work to compensate for the strain. 

According to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj, spinal and orthopedic surgeon at the New York Spine Surgery and Rehabilitation Medicine Center, this gradual degeneration can lead to chronic back pain, herniated discs, neck pain, altered posture and gait, and even pain in the feet.

So what can you do to prevent heavy luggage injuries?

At HPL, we specialize in packing light! The less weight in your bag, the less you have to worry about heavy luggage injuries. With these tips, you can say goodbye to carrying heavy luggage and the injuries that come with it. Your entire body will thank you.

Reevaluate What You Pack

Go through your suitcase item by item and reevaluate everything you have packed. You don’t need as much as you think you do and you definitely don’t need all those “just in case” items.

Pack like it’s a one-week trip, do laundry on the road, and buy things if you need something you don’t have.

Reevaluate what you pack to prevent heavy luggage injuries

Stick to One or Two Color Pallets for Your Travel Wardrobe 

If all your clothing coordinates, you can mix and match. There’s no sense in packing a pair of pants that only goes with one shirt. And a pair of shoes that only matches one outfit will take up precious space in your bag.

Pack Clothes You Can Layer

Multiple layers will keep you warmer than one bulky item. Plus they’ll take up less space in your bag and they’ll give you more versatility when putting together your outfit. 

Clothes that can be worn in different ways are like having two (or three or 10) outfits in one. For example, guest writer Elizabeth used four multi-way items to make eight completely different outfits.

Get Some Inspiration

If Brooke can travel for 3 weeks with a 12L purse, you can travel with a 40L backpack. If you think that’s not possible for you, take a look at some inspiring downsizing stories from women just like yourself.

Challenge yourself to say goodbye to your over-packed luggage and going over the weight limit. 

Get Some Help From HPL

If you are still struggling to pack light even after applying these tips, it’s nothing to be ashamed of. So many people struggle with this which is exactly why Brooke, founder of HPL, created the HPL Packing method (HPM). Go from overpacked to traveling for a week in a personal item sized bag (or even a handbag!) in just 4 weeks!

Choose the Correct Luggage to Prevent Heavy Luggage Injuries

Once you’ve reduced the amount of weight going into your bag, it’s important to choose the right kind of luggage for you. 

For some, backpacks are a good way to distribute weight. For others, rolling suitcases are better for preventing back pain. Find out what works for you.

We have some great blog posts to get you started:

While bags aren’t cheap, it’s worth it to invest in something high-quality. These will most likely come with features to help prevent heavy luggage injuries like padded adjustable shoulder straps or some kind of back support. Make sure you don’t get bulky luggage that you know you’re going to struggle to carry. 

Pack Smartly

The way you pack your backpack also matters! Organize your items inside so that heavier items are placed low and towards the center of your backpack close to your back.

Tips for Carrying Heavy Luggage

The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) provides some great tips for lifting and carrying heavy luggage to avoid injury.

load the overhead luggage compartment correctly to prevent heavy luggage injuries
  • Rather than bending at the waist, protect your back by bending your knees and using your leg muscles to pick up heavy baggage.  Keep your back straight as you lift. Use both hands where possible. 
  • Do not twist your back and keep a good posture to reduce back strain.
  • When carrying a backpack, always use both shoulder straps. The straps should be tightened so that the backpack sits snugly against your back. If there is a hip or chest belt make sure you fasten it for some extra protection against heavy luggage injuries. 
  • Take your time. Give yourself more than enough time at airports so that you don’t have to rush. And take breaks if you have to carry luggage for long periods of time.
  • When going up stairs, carry your suitcase rather than dragging it and if possible use an elevator instead.
  • If you’re using a duffel or shoulder bag, switch sides regularly to ensure you’re not placing extra strain on one side of your body.
  • If you’re battling to place items in the overhead bins on an airplane, first lift your bag onto the seat and then lift it into the overhead compartment. If your luggage has wheels, make sure you place it wheel-side first and then push it the rest of the way in. If you’re still struggling, ask a flight attendant to help you.

Have you been injured from traveling with heavy luggage? Let us know in the comments below.

how to avoid heavy luggage injuries

Written by Ali

Ali Garland is a freelance writer, blogger, and travel addict who made it to all 7 continents before her 30th birthday. She enjoys travel planning, encouraging others to see the world, and packing carry-on only. She and her husband are expats living in Berlin. You can find Ali at Ali's Adventures and Travel Made Simple.

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