TIPS

Over 50? Your carry on bag may put you at risk

August 8, 2014
Photo credit: American Airlines

Photo credit: American Airlines

An orthopedic surgeon warns of the risks of a heavy carry on bag and offers some tips.

Many over-50 travelers don’t realize that they may be placing themselves at risk of significant shoulder injury when they attempt to juggle heavy carry on bags into awkwardly configured overhead compartments on airplanes.

I’m as guilty as the next person. Even seasoned travelers succumb to the temptation to stuff as much as possible into hand luggage for some very practical reasons:

-Traveling with one bag is easier than traveling with two.

-It reduces the hassle of waiting for checked bags upon arrival at your destination

-It minimizes the risk of lost bags.

-Distributing weight (e.g. heavy objects, such as shoes or straightening irons) into carry on bags (which usually aren’t weighed) can help avoid extra fees for overweight checked bags.

Consultant orthopedic surgeon Simon Moyes of London Bridge Hospital reports seeing an increasing number of shoulder injuries occurring as a result of travelers trying to maneuver carry ons into tightly-packed overhead bins.

“These patients usually develop tendon injuries as they are performing movements they are not used to, with weights they are not used to,” Moyes writes in a press release. “This will produce a condition known as post traumatic impingement syndrome (a ligament tear) and/or rotator cuff tearing.

How do you know if this has occurred? Moyes says you’ll usually feel an acute pain over the lateral deltoid (shoulder muscle) that radiates down the arm, which doesn’t get better on its own.

6 Takeaway Tips:

  • Don’t start off with a carry on that’s heavy when empty. Invest in a lightweight model.
  • Be conscious when you pack your carry on, being careful not to make it too heavy.
  • Be especially careful when lifting the bag overhead.
  • If there’s no space in the overhead bin and you need to maneuver other peoples’ bags, ask for their help.
  • If you aren’t in the best of shape, see if cabin crew can assist you.
  • If you experience symptoms after lifting your bag, have them evaluated by a medical specialist.
  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    August 8, 2014 at 9:12 am

    And the 7th takeaway tip should be: if your bag is too heavy or you’ve developed shoulder or back problems (common after the age of 50), check the bag. I finally had to start doing this. And relying on someone to help me place my bag overhead wasn’t working. Airline personnel are not always keen on doing this and that “nice” fellow traveler is not always around to help. Paying a fee or running the risk of a lost bag is better than creating physical problems that can ruin your trip.

  • Reply
    Marilyn Jones
    August 8, 2014 at 11:24 am

    Excellent advice. I hate trying to put bags in the overhead bins and usually ask for help. Young men especially seem willing to help. If things get too heavy and the fee is reasonable ($25), I just check my bag. Walking through an airport like a pack mule is not a “vacation!” 🙂

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 7:42 pm

      So true! Love the image of the pack mule, Marilyn~

  • Reply
    Donna Janke
    August 11, 2014 at 1:52 am

    I still haven’t found the balance between keeping my carry on light and stuffing it to avoid checking a bag, but I’m learning. I do pay more attention now to how my luggage and packing will affect my shoulders and back.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 7:48 pm

      No matter how many times I pack, I still find it a challenge, Donna!

  • Reply
    Betsy Wuebker | PassingThru
    August 11, 2014 at 2:22 am

    I agree on checking the bag. Schlepping carryons is no longer best practice on crowded flights. Have you followed the tweet meme #carryonshame? Twitter vigilantism! On board stealth photos of travelers who’ve taken leave of their common sense, trying to cram oversized belongings into the bin. Pet peeve!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 7:49 pm

      Seems like your damned if you and damned if you don’t—some people have a hard time paying those extra bucks on both legs of a trip.

  • Reply
    Sue Reddel
    August 11, 2014 at 10:57 am

    Great tips! I have a grumpy back that likes to bother me at the worst times. Tweaking it putting on or taking off my bag is a horrible. I keep it light and check if need be. It’s a good way to keep your packing to a minimum.

  • Reply
    Juergen
    August 11, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Oh, be careful with asking cabin crew to help you lift things, or to you might happen the same thing as did to me: I took once for an extended trip all my books in a carry-on bag which was rather heavy. When the steward wanted to lift up the drop-down luggage bin he noticed the weight, after much discussion decided it was too heavy (for claimed security reasons), and it had to go into the (already closed) haul! So all passengers had to wait for my pack to be stored away, and upon arrival the bag was tagged for personal collection at a counter – where I had to pay for it’s weight!
    Thank god for eReaders nowadays!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 7:53 pm

      That’s a lesson learned the hard (and heavy) way:-)

  • Reply
    Michelle Richmond
    August 11, 2014 at 2:12 pm

    Those are some really good tips. Thanks for posting. Back when dinosaurs roamed the tarmac and I was a Pan Am flight attendant, we always helped people put things into the overheads, but I notice that no one does that now…unless you happen to find a nice young man to do it!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 7:58 pm

      Yes, many flight attendants don’t seem very attentive. It’s often hard to grab their attention, even with the call button!

  • Reply
    Leigh
    August 11, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    I am guilty of packing a heavy carry-on bag but I also do a good job of staying in shape. I appreciate that it doesn’t take much to throw out a back and do hope nothing happens. Maybe I’ll be smarter at 60.

  • Reply
    Heather @ TravelingSaurus
    August 11, 2014 at 8:31 pm

    I’m young, but my mother travels a lot and–though she packs well–sometimes struggles to put her bag in the overhead, particularly in larger planes where she is just not tall enough. While there is more often or not a nice person that is more than happy to, sometimes people (including crew) just STARE as someone really struggles with their bag. So to all of us younger travelers (or older people with awesome shoulders), be polite & help!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 8:21 pm

      Your mom is lucky to have you to travel with. Similarly, that’s just one more reason why we love traveling with our son!

  • Reply
    Neva @ Retire for the Fun of it
    August 12, 2014 at 1:43 am

    This is a frustrating subject for me as I’m vertically challenged and those overheads are so high. Fortunately, when I traveled with my “tall” daughter, she always stashed my bag for me.

    Next time when I reserve a seat, I’ll indicate that the seat should be near nice young men that are tall.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Thanks for sharing the perspective of the “vertically challenged.” You made me smile~

  • Reply
    jane canapini
    August 12, 2014 at 9:41 am

    I am a firm believer in wheels on every piece of luggage, for a similar reason. The super-heavy backpack, or shoulder bag is a pain (literally) to lug around.

  • Reply
    Michelle
    August 13, 2014 at 12:47 am

    I would love to ditch my carry on, but I’m not sure what to do with my lap top. It sure would make my travels a lot easier! I am on the look out for a one bag system that fit my camera and laptop. No luck so far. Thank you for the tips.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      I had a laptop stolen recently so that is something I would never ever check!

  • Reply
    noel
    August 13, 2014 at 2:23 am

    I am one of those crazies that puts in the laptop, cameras and accessories on the hand carry and yes it is extremely heavy so I put it under the seats and not the overhead.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 14, 2014 at 8:49 pm

      Did you ever try a Scottevest, Noel? It’s great for stashing camera stuff. My husband is addicted to his.

  • Reply
    Suzanne Fluhr
    August 14, 2014 at 4:08 am

    Like, Noel, I’m one of those “under the seat in front of you” type people — mostly because I’m also a window seat person and I have things in my carry on that I’ll want during the flight AND because I have trouble lifting over my head. However, I have noticed increased back, neck and shoulder pain just from carrying my backpack through airports. Maybe it’s time to think about a wheeled carry on.

  • Reply
    Doreen Pendgracs
    August 14, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    Hi Irene: I think the key is to have ultra lite luggage, as you mention. That makes such a huge difference in managing the ultimate weight when full.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 15, 2014 at 9:30 am

      Doreen,

      Totally agree that light luggage is the starting point!

      Best, Irene

  • Reply
    santafetraveler
    August 16, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Due to back issue, I was told by a chiropractor not to carry heavy bags way before I was 50. My daughter-in-law just tore a tendon in her ankle wrestling a suitcase into the car. Those bags can be dangerous!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 16, 2014 at 9:52 am

      Hadn’t thought of it but loading suitcases into car trunks can be just as risky. Hope your daughter-in-law heals quickly.

  • Reply
    Johanna
    August 16, 2014 at 8:37 pm

    Thanks for these tips. Yes, So guilty. Well of packing too heavy everything really, and trying to lug too much of everything. I’m having chiro work done on my shoulder which exhibits exactly this pain … so who knows, possibly all down to our recent trip to Europe?

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 16, 2014 at 8:39 pm

      Writing this article sure raised my consciousness but it is SO hard to travel ultra-lite!

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