Let’s talk about the problems of carting heavy luggage and its impact on the lower back and shoulders


You stumble off the plane after enduring 17 hours of cramped conditions. Your lower back and neck are stiff, but it feels great to be moving, striding out as you walk the kilometres to the baggage reclaim area. In fact, you congratulate yourself on taking the stairs instead of the escalator.  You find your flight luggage carousel (along with 400 others) and wait an eternity for the luggage to come out. At last the carousel begins to move and you spot your black oversized luggage (you will be away for a while!) moving towards you.  As you bend forward to grab it you notice a bit of a twinge in the lower back, so you choose to drag your bag off the carousel rather than lift it. You notice a sharp pain in the right shoulder. At first you take no notice – you are just relieved to have your luggage; you’ve avoided a near miss with the lower back and you’re heading towards customs. The shoulder starts to ache and twinge a bit more as you wheel your bag towards the exit. Dilemma. 

Shoulders and lower backs can often be the victims of heavy luggage you repeatedly lift or drag. As for the shoulders, it is usually the rotator cuff of the shoulder that bears the brunt of the damage and occurs more commonly with those of us 45 years and over. The shoulder gains most of its stability via muscles and tendons in particular the 4 muscles of the rotator cuff. The rotator cuff muscles act as complex pulley system to operate and regulate the movement the shoulder.   When any of these muscles have a problem – a small tear or strain- the pulley system doesn’t work well and the whole shoulder and muscular system can be affected. 

In the back, it is most commonly the lumbar discs that suffer. When you lift a heavy object, the lumbar discs 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 position. It is also more likely if you do not brace as you lift.


Five tips for handling heavy luggage


So, here are few tips regarding handling heavy luggage and advice on lifting and manual handling:

  1. Avoid repeated bending from the lower back – use your legs rather than your back – bend from the knees and hips instead of your lower back. This will take the pressure off the lumbar discs
  2. Avoid twisting your spine or turning when you are lifting
  3. Keep the load (or luggage) close to your body
  4. Before you lift – engage your core stabilizers by bracing your abdomen and setting your shoulder blades down and back. Brace then lift.
  5. Prepare for the trip with a few simple strengthening exercises. Keeping strong around your abdomen, lower back, legs and shoulders will help to avoid shoulder and back injuries when dealing with luggage. Start a strengthening program at least 3 months prior to your planned travel


I hope you enjoy your travels, Deb.