You might not realise it, but using a tote bag or purse bag may be damaging your shoulder.

On a daily basis, I’ve been favouring using a tote bag over a backpack for work, just because it looks more stylish. Many things are shoved in – my wallet, water bottle, umbrella, and makeup. Overtime, I started feeling a pain around my right shoulder where I most commonly hang my bag (also my dominant side).

And if I were to carry a backpack, I’d hang it around one shoulder as well instead of hanging it over two shoulders. Anyone else like me?

What causes this painful sensation around your neck/shoulder? The primary reason for it is uneven weight distribution. A dominant shoulder might be used more often than the non-dominant one. The dominant one is bearing the heavy weight, which may cause your shoulder to eventually roll forward.. Over time, it may lead to a tight chest and overused neck muscles, as well as headaches, back pain and body aches. Your physical appearance can also be affected, like having a lopsided shoulder. [1] Who would have thought something like a bag could bring all these pains?

Your gait may also be affected, as the arm will not be able to swing properly when there is a heavy weight on the shoulder. Your arms naturally swing when walking. It helps to lessen the amount of energy your body uses. Without being able to swing your arms, your body will overcompensate and more effort and energy will need to be put into just walking. [2]

Here’s some recommendations we suggest to relieve your shoulder pain.

Use a backpack instead

A backpack will be able to distribute the weight across the shoulders and back evenly. This lowers the chance of spraining your back. When wearing your bag, it is advised to place it at least 4 inches above your hip. And make sure to place both straps across both shoulders!

Padded straps

Backpack Straps for a good shoulder

Backpack Padded Straps

Source out for bags with padded or broader straps, as thin straps usually dig into your shoulder. Thin straps add pressure to the shoulder and can cause pain in the shoulder joint. [3] Singular padding is available as an alternative as well if you’d like to add it on to your existing bag.

Empty out your bag

Don’t overload it with too many items. If you’re a hoarder like me, empty out your wallet to get rid of unnecessary receipts, and consider exchanging your coins to cash if you rarely use them. Declutter the items in your bag as well. Consider taking off keychains if they are wearing your bag down.

Use your other shoulder

If you still want to use a tote bag, make sure you switch shoulders once in a while. You may be over relying on the same shoulder to carry your bag. Don’t make it a habit to rely on the same shoulder, try reminding yourself to switch it. [4]

Be aware of your posture

Sometimes, your body may be leaning towards the side that you are carrying your tote as there is no weight distribution. Stand up straight and tall when walking [5], it will aid in your breathing and won’t cause backaches.

Shoulder exercises

You may also try these exercises to increase the mobility of your shoulder and prevent any further injuries.

Cross body shoulder stretch

Cross body shoulder stretch

Cross body shoulder stretch

You can choose to sit or stand during this exercise. Bring your arm across your body and use your other arm to hold it. Hold for about 15-20 seconds, and do this about 10 to 20 times.

Theraband low rows

Theraband Low Row Exercise you can do anywhere

Theraband Low Row Exercise

Hoop your theraband around something sturdy, like a railing. Make sure your arms are straight out. Puff your chest out, belly button in and make sure your shoulders are down.
Pull the end of the bands towards yourself. Your elbows should be bent at 90°. Hold it for 10-15 seconds. Slowly release it, and repeat for another 10 times.

Pectoral corner stretch

Pectoral Corner Stretch you can do at home

Pectoral Corner Stretch

Stand and face a corner of the room in a neutral position. Place your arms flush against the wall and lean your body weight towards the corner. You should feel a stretch across your chest. Hold for 20 seconds, and repeat 3-5 times.

Please, remember to consult your doctor or physiotherapist prior to doing any of the mentioned exercises. If you are facing any of the issues mentioned around your shoulder, feel free to reach out to us!


[1] Campbell Clinic Orthopaedics. (November 21, 2018) Carrying Heavy Bags: Shoulder and Back Injuries. [online] Available at:

[2] Wonderopolis. (n.d) Why Do We Swing Our Arms When We Walk? [online] Available at:

[3] Keck Medicine of USC. (n.d) Finding the Right Backpack and Wearing it Properly [online] Available at:

[4] Son, S., & Noh, H. (2013). Gait changes caused by the habits and methods of carrying a handbag. Journal of physical therapy science, [online] 25(8), 969–971.

[5] Harvard Health (May 25. 2020) Perfecting your walking technique [online] Available at: