From The Ergoweb® Learning Center

Wheeled Briefcases

Today’s urban office worker shoulders quite a burden – a briefcase full-to-bursting with a laptop, handheld electronics, paperwork and even lunch. The pain of wrenched backs and sore shoulders from the load has led many to say “Enough!” They are swelling the market for rolling briefcases, which Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper likens to nylon and metal cabooses.

The article noted that small rolling baggage gained popularity for business travel in the mid-nineties, when clunky laptops accompanied the travelers wherever they went. It’s only over the past five years that wheeled bags came to be perceived as a solution for the musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) that seemed to dog any worker obliged to shoulder a briefcase.

There is good evolutionary reasoning for rolling rather than carrying luggage, according to the paper. When humans evolved to walk on two legs, our spines lost much of their load-bearing capacity.

In the article, Andrew Drewczynski, ergonomics specialist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety, explained that the dynamic of the spine was thrown off when we went vertical. "Our spines became unstable. Lifting a bag on one shoulder throws the spine off balance, so we compensate with compression of spine and the muscles that stabilize the spine are put under much stress." The result can be a variety of ailments, but their common denominator is pain. With a roller briefcase, he said, most of that pressure is carried by wheels.

The product catalogues show that the big luggage makers – Targus, Samsonite, Mancini, Victorinox, McKlein, Mercury, McKlein USA, Piel Leather, Titan and Tumi – now carry at least one line of wheeled briefcase. Prices range from just under US $100 to US $700. Most are soft nylon or other fabric, but rigid polycarbonate bags are becoming popular at the high end. Some feature in-line skate wheels instead of the usual casters.

Titan’s polycarbonate case with in-line skate wheels points to a direction the makers with haute couture aspirations will take. Tumi is also planning a polycarbonate model on in-line skate wheels, with an added touch – fashion colors such as candy-apple red.

Few makers have made any concession to fashion, knowing most briefcase carriers are just thinking about relief for a sore back or shoulders when they buy their bag.

Sources: Globe and Mail; Targus, Samsonite, Mancini, Victorinox, McKlein, Mercury, McKlein USA and Piel Leather; Titan; Tumi