10 Back-Saving Tips for Lifting and Carrying Luggage


Winter—some call it the most wonderful time of the year (with our recent sub-zero temperatures, that might be disputed). But it is the time to gather with family and friends, hit the slopes, or if you’re fed up with the cold weather, pack up and head closer to the equator.

But the larger and heavier your luggage, the more at risk you are for neck, back, and shoulder injuries. Lifting and carrying bulky luggage can strain your bones, muscles, and joints. In addition, most airlines now charge additional fees based on the weight of your luggage.

According to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, more than 54,000 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices, clinics and other medical settings for injuries related to luggage in 2009. Injuries to the back, neck, and shoulder may be caused by struggling with heavy, over-packed luggage.

To avoid injury, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) urges you to use proper judgment when packing, lifting, and carrying luggage. Here are 10 simple tips that will help you and your luggage arrive at your destination in one piece:

  1. Look for sturdy, light, high-quality, and transportable pieces. Wheels and a handle are extremely helpful, but avoid pieces that are heavy or bulky when empty.
  2. Use smart packing techniques and pack lightly. When possible, place items in a few smaller bags instead of one large luggage piece.
  3. When lifting luggage, stand alongside of it and bend at the knees. Limit bending at the waist and lift with your leg muscles. Grasp the handle and straighten up. Once lifted, hold your luggage close to your body.
  4. Don’t twist or rush when lifting and carrying. Point your toes in the direction you are headed and turn your entire body in that direction. If it’s too cumbersome, get help.
  5. Don’t carry bulky luggage for long periods of time. When possible, use your airline’s baggage claim service when traveling with heavier items.
  6. Carry pieces in both hands rather than one hand off to the side. This can decrease stress to your spine. Less weight on one arm can also reduce the risk of developing “suitcase elbow,” a chronic condition similar to “tennis elbow.”
  7. When placing luggage in an overhead compartment, first lift it onto the top of the seat. Placed your hands on the left and right sides of the suitcase and lift it up. If your luggage has wheels, make sure the wheel-side is set in the compartment first. Once wheels are inside, put one hand atop the luggage and push it to the back of the compartment. To remove the luggage, reverse this process.
  8. Make sure your backpack has two padded and adjustable shoulder straps that equally balance the weight. Choose a backpack with several compartments to secure various-sized items and pack heavier things low and towards the center. Slinging a backpack over one shoulder does not allow weight to be distributed evenly and can cause muscle strain.
  9. Don’t carry duffel or shoulder bags on one shoulder for any length of time. Switch sides often to reduce strain.
  10. Don’t drag rolling luggage when climbing stairs. Carefully lift and carry the piece instead, or use an elevator or escalator if available.

Source: US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC), 2009