4 Steps for Summer Suitcase Safety

Hoisting and hauling heavy luggage could lead to back pain that ruins your vacation before it begins. Knowing the safest, most back-friendly ways to pack and move your suitcases could be a true trip saver.

Step 1: Choose Your Bag Wisely

Base your choice of luggage on how much packing space you need, and most importantly, ease of transport.

“Suitcases that have handles and wheels are easily maneuverable and better for the back,” says Michael Catino, M.D., orthopedic spine surgeon at North Texas Neck and Back, a Texas Health Physicians Group practice, and on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Denton and Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Alliance. “The individuals who end up with back trouble are those who use inordinately large suitcases that don’t roll and are awkward to move. These travelers have to strain to get their bags in and out of cars, on and off baggage carousels, and into and out of airplane overhead compartments.”

Step 2: Load Logically

Your suitcase is open on the bed, and you’re on the verge of diving into your usual packing routine: Stuff everything into the main compartment and strain to zip the suitcase closed.

Stop — it’s time to pack smarter.

Only take what you’ll really need, and as you load, use all of the suitcase’s pouches to balance the bag’s overall weight.

Pack everything tightly and secure items with the suitcase’s safety straps to keep things from moving. A sudden shift when you lift the bag could force you to compensate to keep from dropping it; that abrupt wrench of your muscles could have painful results.

Step 3: Lift Sensibly

Dr. Catino sees the same poor luggage lifting technique every time he visits an airport.

“Travelers and baggage handlers bend at the waist, lift heavy bags and then rotate at the waist to put them down,” he says. “That places an awful lot of stress on the low back and can lead to acute lumbar strain and acute low back pain. I cringe when I see someone lift like that. The least harmful way to lift luggage is to pick it straight up with both hands, turn your whole body and then put the suitcase straight down. That way, you avoid upper body rotation.”

Do not stretch to lift — stand close to or over your suitcase and bend your knees to pick it up. Keep your back straight as you lift.

Step 4: Carry Conscientiously

Lifting appropriately is half of the luggage safety equation; you also have to be mindful of the toll that toting baggage through seemingly endless airport terminals or labyrinthine hotels can take on your body. If your bag doesn’t roll, take frequent rest breaks and put it down to prevent harm to your back and shoulders. Switch your carrying hand or shoulder often, and wear backpacks correctly, using both shoulder straps.

Experiencing acute low back pain? Rest for a day or two, take an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medication and apply heat to the area. If pain increases or doesn’t begin improving after 48 hours, it’s time to see an orthopedic surgeon. To find an orthopedist, visit THPG.org.

Physicians employed by Texas Health Physicians Group practice independently and are not employees of the hospital or Texas Health Resources.

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