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How to avoid luggage-related injuries this holiday travel season

Each year, thousands injure themselves lifting or carrying heavy, overloaded luggage. Two University of Minnesota Health sports medicine physicians share tips for avoiding potentially painful injuries.
No matter how you get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B,’ chances are there will be luggage involved—including potentially heavy or overloaded bags. In 2014, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported roughly 73,000 luggage-related injuries. University of Minnesota Health experts shared a few tips to help travelers avoid problems.

It’s the holidays, and all you can think about is reuniting with your family, or finally arriving at that fun-filled resort destination. But before you get there, you may have to navigate crowded airports, or pack your spouse and children into a crammed car.

No matter how you get from ‘Point A’ to ‘Point B,’ there's a good chance you will be carrying luggage—including potentially heavy or overloaded bags. In 2014, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission reported roughly 73,000 luggage-related injuries. In 2015, that number jumped to more than 84,000 people treated in emergency rooms, doctor’s offices, and clinics for injuries related to luggage.

That’s why University of Minnesota Health experts suggest that you focus on how you pack and carry bags, unless you want your next stop this holiday season to be your doctor’s office.

“I’m almost surprised that number isn’t higher, considering how much we're forced to pack into our carry-on luggage now that passengers are being charged to check bags on flights,” said Sports Medicine Physician David Smith, DO.

“Large, heavy bags can become difficult to control. They could fall down the stairs, or escalator,” Smith said.

It doesn’t take an escalator mishap to cause an injury, though. A seemingly simple act, such as moving your luggage from one location to the next, could be enough. Sports Medicine Physician David Jewison, MD, said the injuries often occur as people haul their luggage behind them, resulting in a shoulder injury. Therefore, he says it’s better to push your luggage than pull it.

“It’s important to keep your joints in a position you normally use,” Jewison said.

The same is true when it comes to lifting luggage. Don’t lift more than you are capable of, and don’t be afraid to ask for help, Jewison cautioned.

Some additional tips to avoid injuries when lifting luggage this holiday travel season:

  • Always bend your knees.
  • Keep the object close to your body.
  • Keep your knees and hips engaged when lifting objects from the floor up.
  • Keep the object between your knees and close to your center of gravity.

Both Jewison and Smith are advocates for wheeled luggage or suitcases, and Smith believes four wheels is better than two, because bags equipped with four wheels are less likely to tip over. Jewison suggests splurging on luggage with nicer, sturdier wheels.

“A lot of the wheels are cheap and can end up breaking, meaning that you may be stuck carrying your luggage—which can lead to more injury possibilities,” Jewison said.

If you do have to carry your luggage, Smith suggests switching arms at every long corridor so you don’t overload one side. If you’re at the airport, you might also consider renting a dolly.

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If you do end up getting injured, Smith and Jewison say the sooner you go in to see a physician the better. In some cases, the injury may require physical therapy, spinal injections, or surgery.

Often the people Jewison and Smith see for luggage-related injuries are patients they’ve seen before—people who may have ‘reinjured’ a previous injury. Smith and Jewison say this group needs to be particularly careful when handling luggage or lifting heavy objects.  They suggest keeping medication on hand in case luggage agitates a previous injury.

“Whether it’s an over-packed bag, or the way you lift or move it, holiday luggage is something that you should take seriously,” said Smith.

“The extra minutes you spend planning ahead might end up saving your body, muscles or joints,” Jewison said.