CINCINNATI—Whether you’re traveling over the river or through the skies this holiday season, UC Health orthopedic surgeon and spine specialist Ferhan Asghar, MD, suggests you pack light and smart to avoid injury.
“You don’t want to spend your holiday being nursed by family members at home or even in the hospital for a couple of days,” Asghar says.
Tens of thousands of luggage-handling strains, sprains and far worse injuries force people to seek medical attention each year. In fact, recent estimates suggest the number of personal injuries related to luggage can reach more than 50,000 nationwide in one year alone.
“Very often patients who come to see me say, 'I was carrying the luggage to the car or loading it into the van.’ It’s all of those twisting motions ,while at the same time you are bending over, that are the worst things you can do—especially to the back. The worst-case scenario being a ruptured or herniated disc, which can require surgery."
What he suggests is that travelers follow the suggestions outlined by the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS). But he also says to exercise caution regarding how you travel as well. For example, if seated in a plane for an extended period, bring along a small pillow to support the lower back. And when your suitcases come around on the carousel, “get as close to the luggage as possible” because that far reaching motion coupled with the weight of a bag is an injury culprit.
As for what type of luggage to use, try to use one that has wheels, Asghar says. “It doesn’t look sexy or hip like a backpack or designer tote, but it’s much easier on the back.”
The AAOS recommends the following:
- Look for sturdy, light, high-quality, and transportable pieces when shopping for luggage. Choose luggage 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.
- To lift luggage, stand alongside of it and bend at the knees. Do not bend at the waist. Lift the luggage with your leg muscles. Grasp the handle and straighten 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.
- Carry pieces in both of your hands rather than one hand off to the side. This can 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. Place your hands on the left and right sides of the suitcase and 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 the luggage and push it to the back of the compartment. To remove the luggage, reverse this process.
- When using a backpack, make sure it has two padded and adjustable shoulder straps to equally balance the weight. Choose a backpack 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. This can cause muscle strain.
- When using a duffel or shoulder bag, do not carry it on one shoulder for any length of time. Be sure to switch sides often.
- Carry all rolling luggage when climbing stairs.
For more information about holiday safety, visit http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00367 or www.ucortho.com.