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Is your handbag causing your headache?


Experts have warned women that fashionable clothing could be bad for your health. Physiotherapist Naomi Sofer reveals five strange reasons, including your handbag, that could be the reason for your persistent headache

The British Chiropractic Association (BCA) have said that certain items of clothing are a leading cause of women’s back pain. It’s not the first time we have been advised to lay off the stilettoes and skinny jeans. But now cross body bags, hoodies, hooded coats and necklaces have been added to the list, as well as new fashion trends bell sleeves and backless shoes (mules).

The warning comes after 73 per cent of 1,062 people surveyed said they suffer with back pain, but only 28 per cent were aware their clothing could be the reason.

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BCA chiropractor Tim Hutchful said any item of clothing that restricts movement, or which leads people to stand or walk unnaturally, can have a negative impact on the posture, back or neck. ‘Restrictive clothing can lead to a loss of ‘bounce’ in your stride and the natural shock-absorbing qualities in your walk, causing pressure in your joints’, he said. ‘While overloaded and heavy handbags are a common culprit, some more unexpected items like skinny jeans can also wreak havoc’.

Heavy handbags are a particularly common cause of back pain in women, according to the BCA, and we should avoid carrying them in the crook of the arm and pulling one shoulder unnaturally.

On top of this, Naomi Sofer, Physiotherapist at London’s Boost Physio, suggests your handbag could too be the cause of a persistent headache. You probably know that too much alcohol, not getting enough sleep, dehydration and your hormones can cause a foggy head, but Naomi explains five rather strange root causes, and tips on how to avoid them.

1. Your handbag

Did you know your handbag or case should weigh less than 10% of your body weight? Carrying any more than that and you’re putting too much stress on your body which in turn can lead to headaches. Lighten the load, only carry things you need. Wearing a heavy bag on the same shoulder day after day can put a lot of strain on your neck and shoulder and this in turn can cause headaches. If you can use a backpack, which are really on trend now. Healthista loves Gym Tote, as it has compartments for your gym kit, trainers, phone, and all the rest. If you regularly need to carry a heavy load, like a laptop or heavy books for studying, invest in a small wheelie bag. Regular exercise, acupuncture and stretching can help with this.

2. Too many painkillers

If you regularly take painkillers, such as paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin more than two or three times a week you could be giving yourself a headache. Known as a Medication Overuse Headache, popping too many painkillers can actually cause regular headaches. Doctors advise that you stop taking the pills, and while your headaches may continue at first the drugs should be out of your system in about 10 days and the headaches should subside.

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3. Weightlifting

Sometimes lifting weights with incorrect breathing technique can give you an exertional headache. That moment when you see someone going red in the face, holding their breath, when they are lifting heavy weights- this is called a Valsalva Manoeuvre and can raise blood pressure to very high levels and can precipitate a headache which can rapidly worsen. To avoid one of these extremely painful headaches, breathe out during exertion when lifting heavy weights to maintain blood pressure. Surprisingly other factors that can cause theses types of exertional headache are coughing and sneezing.

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4. Excessive sitting

We all know that sitting for long periods is bad for our health and another symptom of excessive sitting can be pounding headaches.


These can be caused by sitting in a slumped “poking chin” position which puts pressure on your joints and muscles at the base of the skull and neck- which can lead to “Cervicogenic Headaches”. Sit up straight, feet flat on the floor and you’re your chin gently tucked in. Imagine you are a puppet with the puppet string attached to the top of your skull and the puppeteer gently pulling up on the string making you taller. At home avoid slumping on the sofa and get up every so often to stretch.

5. Alarm Clock Headaches

If you wake up in the middle of the night- usually between 1-3am with a throbbing headache you could be suffering from what is known as “alarm clock” or hypnic headache. This usually affects people over 60.  If you do awake with headaches regularly without any obvious reason it is worth having this checked out with your doctor.

Staying hydrated, a walk outside is sometimes all you need to get rid of a headache and can often offer relief faster than painkillers. Researchers have found evidence that regular exercise can decrease the frequency and intensity of headaches, and for some people, can reduce them altogether.

A quick exercise you can do anywhere at any time

At Boost Physio, we advise our patients to take short breaks from day to day tasks to re-align posture, and stretch out to prevent the build-up of tension related to neck strain and headaches.

Try and stop what you’re doing every 20-30 minutes and stretch your neck up, down, side to side and rotate to look over your shoulders.  Doing this several times a day isn’t a massive commitment, but will keep your neck joints moving, prevent them from stiffening, and give some relief to the muscles that hold your head up all day long.

If you want professional advice on how to get rid of headaches a physio who may suggest a number of different treatments to help you avoid headaches, these might include soft tissue massage, acupuncture, and Pilates and they can also assess your posture and give you advice on how to make changes that can make all the difference.

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