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Tips for Safe Luggage Handling

By: Vadim Goz MD and Lali Sekhon MD. PhD MBA 

This article was adapted from OrthoInfo.

The size and weight of your luggage can significantly impact your risk of neck, back, and shoulder injuries. The act of lifting and transporting bulky luggage can strain your muscles, bones, and joints. With the added trend of airlines charging baggage fees, more travelers are taking on the risk of maneuvering overstuffed carry-on bags through airports and hoisting them into overhead compartments. 

 In 2017, over 85,000 individuals sought medical treatment for luggage-related injuries, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, with back, neck, and shoulder injuries stemming from the struggle with heavy, overstuffed luggage. 

 To prevent such injuries, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) advocates for exercising good judgment when it comes to packing, lifting, and carrying luggage. Here are their recommended tips: 

  1. Choose the Right Luggage: Seek out sturdy, lightweight, high-quality luggage that is easy to transport. Opt for luggage equipped with wheels and a handle, and avoid purchasing luggage that is excessively heavy or bulky when empty.
  2. Smart Packing: Utilize efficient packing methods and pack lightly. Whenever possible, distribute items across a few smaller bags instead of relying on one large piece.
  3. Proper Lifting Technique: When lifting luggage, stand beside it and bend your knees while minimizing bending at the waist. Engage your leg muscles to lift the luggage, grasping the handle and keeping it close to your body.
  4. Avoid Twisting: Refrain from twisting while lifting and carrying luggage. Position your toes in the direction you intend to move and pivot your entire body in that direction.
  5. Take Your Time: Avoid rushing when lifting or carrying a suitcase. If it proves too cumbersome, seek assistance.
  6. Limit Carrying Time: Refrain from carrying bulky luggage for extended periods. When possible, utilize the airline’s baggage service for heavier items.
  7. Balanced Load: Carry luggage with both hands rather than using just one hand to the side. This helps reduce stress on your spine and minimizes the risk of developing “suitcase elbow” or medial epicondylitis.
  8. Overhead Compartment Handling: When placing luggage in an overhead compartment, first lift it onto the top of the seat. Grip the suitcase on both sides and lift it upward. If your luggage has wheels, ensure the wheel-side goes in first. Once the wheels are inside, place one hand on top of the luggage and push it to the back of the compartment. To remove the luggage, reverse this process.
  9. Backpack Usage: If using a backpack, ensure it has two padded and adjustable shoulder straps to evenly distribute weight. Opt for a backpack with multiple compartments to secure items of various sizes, keeping heavier items lower and closer to the center. Avoid carrying a backpack over one shoulder, as this can lead to muscle strain.
  10. Duffel and Shoulder Bag Handling: When using a duffel or shoulder bag, avoid carrying it on one shoulder for extended periods. Make sure to switch sides regularly.
  11. Stairs and Rolling Luggage: Do not drag rolling luggage when climbing stairs; carry it instead to prevent accidents.

Whether traveling or moving into a college dorm or apartment, following these guidelines can help prevent musculoskeletal injuries and ensure a safer and more comfortable journey.