If you’re using a conventional suitcase, it may not be treating you well.

Carrying a heavy weight that bumps against your legs can cause a misalignment in your spine. The stress and strain on your back combined with hours of sitting during travel can cause acute pain. Don’t let the wrong suitcase put a kink in your vacation.

Whether you’re traveling across town, across the continent or somewhere else around the world, all that packing and lugging can literally be a pain in your neck, back, and shoulders.

Carrying more than 15 percent of your body weight (just 26 pounds if you weigh 175 pounds) can affect your posture. The additional weight actually changes the angles of the spinal bones in your neck and small back. While spinal changes may not occur from just one trip, it’s an issue to be aware of in our daily lives as we carry items from place to place.

So, what’s the best bag to carry?

Quality lightweight luggage with wheels and retractable handles may be the best choice. You will find a variety of styles with those features. You will have to choose the luggage that fits best with your travel needs. Good luggage often requires a hefty investment. A strong, lightweight bag may cost a little more, but it should last longer … and it can save you a trip to your physical therapist or chiropractor after you return home.

A suitcase or a backpack?

If you like to travel light, you have two options – a duffel bag or a backpack. You can purchase a sophisticated duffel bag with wheels and pockets that can carry just about every supply you will need.

A backpack is a great option if you are traveling from place to place. Whether your backpack is large or small, make sure it has two straps for even weight distribution. Remember to pack the heaviest items on the bottom. Packing this way takes the weight load off your shoulders and distributes it over your hips and torso.

If you use a backpack, keep weight guidelines in mind.

  • An adult should not carry more than 20 percent of his or her body weight.
  • Children should carry less than 10 percent of what they weigh.
  • People over 70 should carry no more than 20 pounds if the back will be carry for a long distance.

Hard sided or soft sided?

Whether you choose a hard-sided or soft-sided bag, the choice is a matter of personal preference based on the way you travel. If you prefer a sturdy bag that can withstand rugged baggage handling, you might want to invest in a hard-sided suitcase. It may be slightly heavier when empty, but it should hold up for many trips into and out of baggage claim.

A soft-sided bag will be lighter and may be more accommodating when putting it into overhead compartments. Soft-sided bags also expand to allow you to pack up to 25 percent more. With the additional capacity, a soft bag may be just as heavy as a hard-sided bag.

Two wheels or four wheels?

We’re glad you asked.

If frequent travel has you sprinting from terminal to terminal at large airports, a heavy, two-wheeled bag may strain your shoulder and neck if you have to walk long distances. The action of pulling a weight with your arm extended behind you may become uncomfortable.

To avoid arm strain, consider a bag with four spinner wheels. The wheels allow you to push the case at your side with a relaxed arm. It puts less stress on your back, neck and shoulders.  Using less muscle power you need to move your suitcase, saves stress on your back and shoulders.

As you get ready for your trip, don’t forget these back-saving tips.

Pack on a table or counter instead of the bed or the floor. The higher surface will keep you from bending over and may save your back.

If you travel frequently and carry heavy bags, add back- and core-strengthening exercises to your workout routine.

Even with the best quality wheeled luggage, you will need to lift your bags from time to time. Be careful. Always use proper lifting technique. If you have to lift your luggage into an overhead compartment on a train or an airplane, lift the bag in stages – first to the seat, then to the compartment. If it hurts to lift your suitcase over your head, ask an attendant or another passenger to help you.

No matter if you travel by train, plane or car, remember to take frequent breaks from sitting. If you’re traveling by car, stop every few hours and walk around. If you are traveling by train or plane, stand up and walk around when it is safe to do so. These movements will increase your circulation and allow oxygen-fresh blood to reach the joints and muscles in your hips, legs and feet.

If you do experience back pain from lifting or traveling, see your health care provider. The pain management and rehabilitation specialists at the Bone & Joint Center in Medford, Merrill, Plover and Wausau can help you reduce or relieve your pain when you get home.