Holiday shopping can be tough on your wallet. But did you ever consider how your wallet might be equally tough on you, especially your back? George Costanza famously suffered from back pain after carrying an overstuffed wallet in one episode of “Seinfeld.”

And what about those heavy packages that weigh you down as you’re traipsing through the mall? All that extra baggage can cause pain in your lower back and throughout your body.

What to Do With Your Wallet or Purse

“Before you go out shopping, clean out your wallet,” says Mary Ann Wilmarth, D.P.T., chief of physical therapy at Harvard University in Cambridge. “Thick wallets carried in your back pocket can press on the sciatic nerve and cause back pain. Instead, keep it thin and in your front pocket, and put your shopping receipts in a separate pocket.”

Those who prefer carrying a handbag should leave the heavy purse at home, she adds, because “wearing it on one side can make you asymmetrical and lead to back pain.” Instead, she suggests wearing a smaller passport-type of purse or wallet that holds just a cell phone, credit card, and driver’s license.

“Something light and over the shoulder that is not heavy and won’t pull on anything,” Wilmarth says, “and wear it diagonally across your body. Wearing any purse, no matter how small, like a necklace can bring your head forward too much.”

Using a fanny pack is also okay, but don’t be tempted to pack it with too many items, and put it in front where you can get to cards and receipts easily.

Shopping Strategies

Go earlier in the day when you’re fresh, not after work when you’re completely exhausted. “Your back is more at risk of being injured if you’re already tired and have been sitting all day,” Wilmarth says.

Bring along two large bags that are lightweight but sturdy with thick plastic handles, Wilmarth advises. They are easier on your hands than ribbon or rope handles, which can dig into them. Use these to consolidate your purchases. (But don’t put too much into any one bag, which can make it too heavy.)

Use a shopping cart if one is available.

Don’t lift clothing off the rack and inspect it by holding it up in front of you at arm’s length. “If it’s held away from your body, a 10-pound item dangling from your hands can feel like 30 pounds. And that puts a lot of strain on your upper back,” Wilmarth says. Instead, make use of what’s in the store. Hang an item from the end of the rack to give it a better look or drape it on a table.

Carry your purchases right in front of you as close to your body as possible. “That causes the least amount of stress on your body,” she says. “The closer the package is to you, the less stress will go down your torso and the discs in your lower back.” If it’s heavy, the smartest move for your muscles is to bring your purchase right to your car.

Put multiple items in bags on either side of your body so that the weight is evenly distributed.

Take a break every hour. Wilmarth suggests doing these two little exercises: Put your hands on your lower back toward your pants pockets and gently arch your back by extending it as far as you can comfortably a few times for about 30 seconds. To relieve the tension in the muscles that go down to the wrists from holding packages, put your arms out in front of you, with fingers straight, then point them toward the floor. Hold for 20 or 30 seconds. Repeat, but this time hold while making a fist.

How to Wrap Gifts

Wilmarth says the biggest mistake that people make is sitting on the floor to wrap gifts. “It sounds like fun, sitting around the fire on the floor, but it can lead to back, neck, and hip pain,” she says.

Instead, put your items on a table and get as close as you can to it, and try not to lean forward too much. If you’re standing, place one foot on a stepstool to relieve back pressure. And remember to take breaks and walk around.


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