Traveling Doesn't Have to be a Pain

Nov. 28, 2005
Whether by car, boat, train, bus or airplane, most people travel these days. Business and pleasure-related travelers rarely think twice about stuffing their suitcases to the brim.

In fact, it seems to be the norm for many. But you might want to think twice about carting around overstuffed luggage.

More times than not, people pack items they never use, making the luggage cumbersome and bulky. The larger and heavier the luggage, the more susceptible a traveler is to neck, back and shoulder injuries. To avoid injury, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges people to use proper judgment when packing, lifting and carrying luggage.

According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 49,100 luggage-related injuries were treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices and clinics in 2004. Injuries to the back, neck and shoulder may be attributed to the mismanagement of heavy, over-packed luggage, which can be a common travel mistake.

"Lifting and carrying bulky luggage can strain your bones, muscles and joints, so it is important to pack lightly," said Frank B. Kelly, M.D., orthopaedic surgeon, and chair of AAOS' Board of Councilors. "To minimize orthopaedic injuries, bend at the knees and lift luggage with your leg muscles not your back and waist and avoid twisting or rotating your spine."

The academy offers the following tips for lifting and carrying luggage:

  • When shopping for new luggage, look for a sturdy, light, high-quality and transportable piece, preferably one with wheels and a handle.
  • Avoid purchasing luggage that is too heavy or bulky when empty.
  • Use smart packing techniques and pack lightly. When possible, place items in a few smaller bags, instead of one large luggage piece.
  • When lifting luggage, stand along side of it, bend at the knees not the waist lift with the leg muscles, then grasp the handle and straighten yourself up. Once you lift the luggage, hold it close to your body.
  • Do not twist when lifting and carrying luggage. Point your toes in the direction you are headed and turn your entire body in that direction.
  • Do not rush when lifting or carrying a suitcase. If it is too cumbersome, get help.
  • Do not carry bulky luggage for long periods of time. Make sure to check heavier items when traveling rather than carrying them for the duration of the trip.
  • Carry light pieces in each hand rather than one heavy item in a hand off to the side to decrease stress to the spine. Less weight on any one arm can also reduce the risk of developing "suitcase elbow," a chronic condition similar to "tennis elbow."
  • When placing luggage in an overhead compartment, first lift it onto the top of the seat. Then, with the hands situated on the left and right sides of the suitcase, lift it up. If your luggage has wheels, make sure the wheel-side is set in the compartment first. Once wheels are inside, put one hand atop of the luggage and push it to the back of the compartment.
  • If using a backpack, make sure it has two padded and adjustable shoulder straps to equally balance the weight. Choose one with several compartments to secure various-sized items, packing the heavier things low and towards the center. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder does not allow weight to be distributed evenly, which can cause muscle strain.
  • If using a duffel or shoulder bag, do not carry it on one shoulder for any length of time. Be sure to switch sides often.
  • Make sure to carry all rolling luggage when climbing stairs.

For additional lifting tips and injury prevention information, please visit the academy's public and patient education Web site,, or call the public service line at (800) 824-BONES.

About the Author

Sandy Smith

Sandy Smith is the former content director of EHS Today, and is currently the EHSQ content & community lead at Intelex Technologies Inc. She has written about occupational safety and health and environmental issues since 1990.

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