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Pack Right for the Holidays to Avoid the ER

Luggage that's too big or too heavy can lead to strains or worse

THURSDAY, Nov. 26 (HealthDay News) -- There may be nothing wrong with stuffing your turkey full to bursting, but you might not want to do the same thing with your suitcase as you pack for holiday trips.

More than 53,000 people were treated in 2008 in U.S. hospital emergency rooms, doctors' offices, clinics and other medical facilities for luggage-related injuries, such as muscle strains, pulls and tears, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

"Lifting and carrying luggage that is too big or heavy for a person's size and frame can put serious strains on your body," Dr. Jeffrey A. Fried, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said in a news release from the academy. "To minimize any damage to your neck, shoulders and back, it is important to bend at your knees, lift luggage with your leg muscles while tightening your abdominal muscles and avoid twisting and rotating your spine."

Other luggage safety tips from the organization include:

  • When possible, pack items into a few smaller pieces of luggage rather than one large bag. It's better to carry a lighter bag in each hand than to lug one heavy bag in one hand or over one shoulder.
  • Carry luggage as close to the body as possible.
  • When placing luggage in an overhead compartment, first lift it onto the top of the seat. Then, with hands on both sides of the bag, lift it into the compartment. If the luggage has wheels, make sure the wheel side is put into the compartment first. Once the wheels are inside, put one hand on top of the luggage and push it to the back of the compartment. Reverse this process when removing the luggage.
  • If you're using a backpack, make sure it has two padded and adjustable shoulder straps. Pack heavy items low and toward the center of the pack. Always wear a backpack on both shoulders. Wearing it on one shoulder can cause muscle strain.
  • If you're using a shoulder or duffel bag, don't carry it on one shoulder for any length of time. Switch sides often to prevent shoulder soreness and discomfort.
  • Don't rush when carrying or lifting a suitcase.
  • If a luggage bag is too heavy or is an awkward shape, ask for help.
  • Don't carry heavy pieces of luggage for long periods of time. Take plenty of breaks.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians offers more travel health and safety tips.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, news release, Nov. 20, 2009

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