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Is your Suitcase a pain in the back?
Back pain can be caused whilst travelling
After travelling around Japan and Australia on holiday this year I began to think about different types of suitcases, and considering a lot of patients come in after their holidays with back pain, it’s quite easy to see how some suitcases are much easier to use than others.
Often after a holiday stint away, patients will often come in for treatment of back pain or spasm.
Often they present with spasm in the mid part of the back between the ribs and the hips or shoulder pain and spasm in the muscle that attaches from the shoulder to the back of the head. This pain can be a result of hitching the suitcase when trying to lift it.
So if a suitcase is quite heavy and you are not turning your core on, you will tend to overuse those muscles resulting in them going into spasm. This can happen when you try to lift a suitcase into the taxi or the car or to the check in weighing machine at the airport.
Now, you can hitch all types of suitcases, but some are easier to lift the wrong way than others.
Is an expensive suitcase better and why?
The more money you spend on a suitcase, the better it usually will be. There are some suitcases that they will replace for a lifetime if something goes wrong with it. Those suitcases do tend to be quite expensive but they are very easy to use.
They roll easy, they’ve got handles to pick them up easy and in the long run, if you do a lot of travelling they are going to be cheaper. Beware of some of the plastic suitcases that look like the expensive ones, because they don’t handle as well.
These days, a lot of suitcases have the four spinner wheels on the bottom. The spinner wheels need to be able to move easily, so when you are picking one up in the shop, you need to be able to manoeuvre the suitcase with just a couple of fingers when it’s empty and maybe only a few fingers even when it’s full
So the better the wheel, the better you are going to be able to manoeuvre the suitcase without much effort.
What about wheels? 4 or 2 ?
The older suitcases that only have two spinner wheels are not that great for your back because it does tend to cause you to tighten up on one side of the lower back while rolling it and you may trip other people walking through a very busy airport.
The suitcases with 4 spinner wheels are much easier to use and safer for everybody around. These spinner wheels must be very strong, so when there is 30kg in that suitcase, you have to be able to manoeuvre it as if it only had 5kg in the suitcase.
The handles on the suitcase are also an important factor. There should be one on the top and one on the side. For ease of use, they seem to work better when they are fairly fixed rather than a handle that may pull in and out of the side of the suitcase.
When you are weighing the suitcase, the airline employees do not like to lift the suitcase on the scale. You need to tip the suitcase by using the handle on the long side of the bag and the handle on the short side to tip it onto the conveyor belt, and then you can push it on.
This way you will not be hitching the suitcase up as all. The same technique can be used when getting the suitcase into the car. Our car is an SUV, has a ledge that comes down at the back of the car which enables you to just about be able to push the suitcase up into the car without having to lift it, as you can rest the suitcase on top of that ledge.
The retractable handle on the suitcase should be able to be set at different heights because you do not want it to be too high when you are pushing the suitcase along. That handle may have one or two bars attaching it to the suitcase.
If it has two bars attached to it, it enables you to hold the suitcase very close to you, and hold one of the upright bars to push the suitcase along while you are walking, which makes it very easy rather than holding onto the top.
If you hold onto the top of it, you need to have it low enough to get a good grip so you can push it across. If the handle on top is attached by two bars, that performs better than a handle that only has one bar attached to the suitcase.
The ones with only one bar attached seem to be a bit more wobbly and not as stable when you are pushing the suitcase along. If the suitcase is of superior quality, this doesn’t make too much difference but if the suitcase is very heavy, it will be harder and if it’s a cheaper suitcase it could make is much harder to use.
When you arrive at the airport, and you are retrieving your suitcase from baggage claim, make sure you line up that suitcase well before it gets to you. If you go to grab it just when it gets to you, it’s already past you when you are trying to pull it off the belt and there could be a lot more passengers around.
If you can get to the end of the belt, you are going to have a bit more room to turn your core on when you grab the suitcase. If you can, if it is placed conveniently, grab the suitcase using both handles. It is always important to breath out when you pull the suitcase off the conveyor belt so that you are turning your core on and not hitching at the hip or the shoulder to do it.
Breathing out and pulling your tummy in as you do it, will be much more helpful to get the suitcase off the belt.
The way you pack your suitcase may also make a difference to how it performs.
Packing the suitcase with the heavy things at the bottom where the wheels are, are going to make it much more manoeuvrable. Most of the good suitcases usually have to separate compartments.
Those compartments need to be weighted evenly as well for the suitcase to move with ease as well. Heavy items should go on the bottom, near the wheels of both compartments such as shoes, books, etc., and have all your light items on the top.
This will make it bottom heavy and less likely to tip over. If possible, it is best to avoid overloading your suitcase.
If you are travelling somewhere and you are carrying a very heavy load, it is a good idea to get your physio or exercise physiologist to help you practise manoeuvring that type of load so that you know what to do before you go and that way you stay safe during your holiday.
Suitcases can be a pain in the back, but if you get the right one, you come back without needing to see the physio as you will come back in tip top shape.