Rx for Readers

How can I cut the risk of harm while traveling with my heavy suitcases?

I am a 40-year-old businessman who flies abroad often - about two weeks every three months. I try to keep down the weight of my suitcases, but I find that they still are quite heavy, and schlepping them around (even though they have wheels), causes me muscular pain in my back and shoulders. How can I cut the risk of harm while traveling? - D.L., Tel Aviv Judy Siegel-Itzkovich comments: The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons recently issued advice for people like you. Here is a summary: Seasoned travelers have a saying: "Pack your bags, then take out half." Most of us bring much more than we need on our trips. Packing light may prevent injuries such as strains, pulls and tears. Lifting and holding a bag incorrectly or lifting luggage from baggage-claim carousels and overhead or under-seat compartments can be risky. The chances of these injuries are even greater after sitting still for a long period. When possible, pack items in a few smaller bags instead of one large luggage piece. It's better to carry a lighter bag in each hand rather than one heavy bag in one hand or over one shoulder. As with any heavy lifting, you should bend at the knees and lift luggage with your leg muscles - not your back and waist - and avoid twisting and rotating your spine. Stand alongside your suitcase, bend at your knees, then grasp the handle and straighten up. Also, try to carry luggage as close to your body as possible. When placing luggage in an overhead compartment, first lift it onto the top of the seat. Then, with the hands on the left and right sides of the suitcase, 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. If you need to use a duffel or shoulder bag, do not carry it on one shoulder for any length of time. Be sure to switch sides often to help prevent soreness and discomfort to the shoulders. And is your suitcase too heavy when empty? If so, buy sturdy, light pieces with wheels and a handle. Do not carry heavy luggage for long periods of time: Carry it, stop and take a break. I am a 73-year-old woman in reasonably good health. I try to exercise half an hour, five times a week, either swimming or walking. A problem that I've noticed over the past six months is that when rising after sitting (in the passenger seat of a car but not so pronounced after driving; getting out of bed; or after using my computer), I seem to have leg pains upon walking for about five minutes more or less. The pains seem to move down the entire leg - from the thigh to lower leg - as I walk. After they disappear, I am able to walk around the track for half an hour or do normal activities. I'm wondering what these symptoms mean. What type of doctor should I go to for an examination? - F.R., Jerusalem Dr. Naama Constantini, director of the sports medicine center in the orthopedic surgery department of Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem's Ein Kerem and head of sports medicine at Hadassah Optimal, replies: The radiating pain from the back that you describe might be what is commonly called sciatica - compression of the sciatic nerve. However, it may be caused by other pathologies, either local or from the back. Any good family doctor, orthopedic surgeon or sport physician can help with the diagnosis. If it is sciatica, a good physiotherapist can help solve the problem by performing specific exercises, mainly strengthening core muscles and stretching, and showing you how to do them at home. It's great that you do an aerobic workout five times a week, but I recommend that you add strength training as well as flexibility and balance exercises. This might help you in general as well as for your specific problem. Rx for Readers welcomes queries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting. Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to jsiegel@jpost.com, giving your initials, age and residence.