Published on February 08, 2016

Don’t let your suitcase ruin your tripDon’t let your suitcase ruin your trip

It can happen when you’re running to catch your flight or simply trying to get your bag in the overhead compartment. A sudden pain in your shoulder, neck or back may the first sign that you have injured yourself while carrying, dragging or pushing your suitcase.

More than 72,900 travelers experienced luggage-related injuries in 2014 according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

“Shoulder injuries are one of the main injuries we see from carrying luggage,” said John Willis, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Cape Cod Hospital.

The carry-on bags are getting heavier and bigger, which makes it more difficult to lift them into the overhead compartment, he said. Penalties for checking large bags makes the situation worse because travelers pack more into their carry-ons so they don’t have to check them.

The twisting and contortions to lift the luggage up and over your head also increases the chance of injury to your back and neck.

“It’s important to carry and lift your luggage using good ergonomics,” said Dr. Willis. “Above all, ask for help if you need it.”

Here are some tips from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

  • Look for sturdy and light-weight luggage with wheels when considering what to purchase
  • Stand alongside your car when lifting luggage into the trunk, bend at your knees not at your waist. Lift with your leg muscles, grab the handle, and then stand up. Keep the bag close to your body.
  • When moving your luggage to the overhead compartment, first place it on the seat. Grab the right and left side of the suitcase and lift it into the compartment, wheels first. Push the bag in with one hand.
  • Do not twist your body when lifting and carrying luggage. Point your toes in the direction you are headed and then turn your body in that direction.
  • Don’t rush
  • Check baggage that is too heavy
  • Backpacks should have two padded, adjustable straps. Weight needs to be evenly distributed and carried on both shoulders to reduce muscle strain.
  • Carry your luggage, don’t drag it when climbing stairs. Use an elevator when possible.

If you do suffer a sprain or strain during a trip, try applying an ice pack for about 48-72 hours, said Dr. Willis. Thereafter, heat may make it feel better. Gentle range of motion exercises, extending and flexing the injured extremity will help so it doesn’t get stiff, he added.

Over the counter pain relievers can help relieve mild discomfort. However, if you have night pain, increasing discomfort or weakness, then you need to be seen by your primary care physician or an orthopedic surgeon. A clicking, crunching or pain in your shoulder may be signs of a rotator cuff injury .

Dr. Willis notes that shoulder injuries don’t usually require immediate surgery and can often be treated with physical therapy and/or cortisone injections. However, it’s important to have it checked, especially if the pain lasts longer than three to four weeks.