A battle with the bags

Most people would rate their experience of de-boarding a plane as burdensome.  The process requires both dexterity, balance and the skills of a contortionist.  In fact, “plane de-boarding” should probably be categorized as a full-contact combat sport.  First, you must manoeuvre from your seat by side-shuffling while in a hunched position. Then you extract your carry-on baggage from the overhead compartment without inflicting bodily harm on fellow passengers.  Finally, you proceed down the world’s narrowest aisle while your luggage misbehaves as though it were a deviant child.

Once you arrive in the terminal, it feels great to be moving. Your back, neck and knees are stiff from the plane ride, but you sense that your body is beginning to uncoil.  You locate the luggage carousel for your flight and stand (or slouch!) uncomfortably, waiting for the luggage to emerge.

At last, the carousel moves and you see your oversized suitcase creeping towards you.   As you bend forward to manoeuvre the suitcase from the conveyor, you experience a sudden twinge in your lower back. Caution dictates that you clumsily drag the suitcase from the carousel rather than to heave it up and over the conveyor’s guardrail.

Although you may have avoided a lifting injury to your lower back, you start to experience escalating shoulder discomfort. And you begin to wonder if you will have the strength to avoid a lifting injury when you arrive at your car or board public transport. How do you avoid a back or shoulder injury?


An unintended lifting injury

Shoulders and lower backs are often the victims of lifting injuries when a pattern of movement — such as twisting your back and hoisting heavy, cumbersome objects — is repeated. In fact, lifting injuries are one of the most common work-related mishaps.  And for adults 55 and older, the risk for injuries due to lifting heavy objects increases significantly.

As for the shoulders, the rotator cuff often bears the brunt of the damage.  The shoulder gains most of its stability via muscles and tendons of the rotator cuff and the trunk. The rotator cuff muscles act as a complex pulley system to operate and regulate the movement of the shoulder.  When these muscles experience a strain or small tear, the pulley system doesn’t function properly and the muscular system of the whole shoulder can be affected. This type of lifting injury occurs more frequently in individuals who are 40 years and older.

Too, lifting injuries affect the lower back – especially when raising a heavy object using a twisting motion. The lumbar discs of the back can experience a sudden increase in pressure — more than the disc tissue can tolerate — and may lead to a bulging or herniated disc. This is far more likely when the lumbar spine (lower back) is in a flexed or bent forward and twisted position. This is often the position you assume when lifting luggage from a carousel or car.


Five tips for lifting and carrying luggage

Here is some advice for handling luggage that may help you avoid a lifting injury:

  1. Avoid repeated bending from the lower back. Use your legs rather than your back, and bend from the knees and hips instead of your lower back. This will take the pressure off the lumbar discs and reduce your risk of injury.
  2. Avoid twisting your spine or turning while you are lifting.
  3. Keep the load (or luggage) close to your body.
  4. Always engage your core stabilizers before you lift. Brace your pelvic floor, then your abdomen and set your shoulder blades down and back. Then lift.
  5. Condition your body with simple strengthening exercises. Keeping strong around your abdomen, lower back, legs and shoulders will help to avoid a lifting injury when dealing with luggage. Optimally, start a strengthening program at least 3 months prior to your planned travel.


Below are a couple of exercises that help strengthen areas of your body as you lift and avoid lifting injuries:

1  |  Squats

  • Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart and your arms outstretched in front of you or hands on hips.
  • Start by pushing your hips back and bending your knees, lowering your thighs to ~45 -90 degrees, keeping your chest upright.
  • Keep your knees in line with your feet, and knees in line with your toes, and return to the starting position.


2  |  Knee push ups

  • Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor shoulder-width apart.
  • From your knees, push against the floor with your hands, extend your elbows, lifting your chest and body from the floor.
  • Keep your core muscles tight, maintain straight line from head to toes, don’t allow back to arch/sag. Then lower with your elbows.

You can also try Rise and Shine Mini Workout to get you started.

I hope you enjoy your travels!   Deb.