Musicians' Health Collective

Musicians' Health Collective: Supporting the health of musicians

Still in Pain? Ditch the Heels and the Purse

Every once in a while, a musician friend will come to me in a panic because they have sudden shoulder, arm, neck, or back pain that's never been a problem before.  I usually ask them two (maybe three) questions: what sort of shoes do you wear, how big is your purse/case, and how do you sleep? If you're a regular reader of the blog, or if you know me personally, you know I don't like wearing high heels (or standing or walking in them) for long periods of time.  I frankly feel gypped- our society has told us that women look sexy, tall, powerful, etc., in heels, despite the fact that the shoes are killing our feet, knees, hips, back, and neck.  Any mainstream magazine will have articles for "comfortable heels" or "treatment after heels," but it wasn't until this year that I learned that elevated heel shoes are seriously contributing to your pain.  However, the combination of a heavy purse and heels is the real kicker.  Last week, I mentioned how carrying your instrument case can be a source of pain and misalignment, especially if you have a repetitive pattern of carrying that is never changed.  But let's take a quick look at purses and how they're really causing some pain.

For most people, it's not the style of purse that's the problem, it's how much it weighs and how you carry it.

For most people, it's not the style of purse that's the problem, it's how much it weighs and how you carry it.

There are a few different types of purses out there:

1.  The Over the Shoulder Holder

2. The handbag, which you must carry in hand or over the elbow.

3. The Big @$$ Tote, or the BAT

4. The Cross Body Bag (or a messenger bag)

Now quick, if you have a scale, go weigh your full purse, man bag, messenger bag, etc.  I'll wait.  Every once in a while, I weigh my purse, especially if I'm at an airport and they have one of those luggage scales, and it's disturbing how much we carry.  I've had bags weigh 10-20 lbs, and in school, my backpacks and messenger bags weighed 20-30 lbs.  Yikes!  Couple that with high heels, and no wonder people have back pain!

How high heels force a compensation pattern in the body- letter C is the control, and A,B, and D, are a few of the different ways your tissues might adapt.

How high heels force a compensation pattern in the body- letter C is the control, and A,B, and D, are a few of the different ways your tissues might adapt.

*Just in case you're wondering about my beef with high heels, take a moment to read these.*

Heels force the foot, knee, pelvis, spine, and neck out of alignment, and causing them to tuck their pelvis and jut the chest forward or round the spine, pushing the head forward.  Think of that as your starting position, and then add an 8 lb weigh on one shoulder when your body is already vulnerable.  Ouch!  If the head is in a forward position from heels (see images A, B, and D), and a one shouldered purse is added (and a case), the risk for injury is much greater, especially if you've already had neck, shoulder, or nerve pain in your life.

With our four types of bags, each poses a risk.  The over the shoulder bag tends to favor one shoulder all of the time.  Few people switch sides, which can pose a long term risk to those tissues, who remain on tension and in contraction which widens the asymmetry between the sides.  The handbag can be a great option if you carry it in your hands and don't rest it on your elbow constantly.  When heavy handbags dangle off the elbow, we put extra risk on the radial side of the forearm, specifically the delicate tendons and nerves.  The BAT is especially suspect because most of us (myself included) will fill that bag to the brim with things that we may not actually need.  If you need to carry lots of stuff, consider a messenger bag, a backpack, or carrying your tote in your hand to reduce the stress on your shoulders.  Lastly, the crossbody bag is a great option if you switch the sides with some frequency and keep the weigh in check. 

In the last year or two, I've moved away from carrying everything in my life on my shoulder (and ditched most of my heels...still have my cowboy boots, which have a half inch-1 inch heel), and my pain has diminished exponentially.  If this is something you've never thought of, stop walking in heels (and I don't just mean stilettos- I mean everything.  Take a ruler to your closet, folks!) and switch out your bag for something lighter.  Even if you don't have a scale in your house, look to see what you're carrying, and whether you need it.  If I'm honest, I don't need half of the things I used to carry, and I'm not in pain for it.