I have to attribute the idea for this column to a colleague who was schlepping a huge bag which appeared to have everything in it but the kitchen sink when we met recently for coffee.

"You should do a column on heavy purses," she said. "This thing is killing me."

I could relate to her pain because I, too, tend to carry large bags. After all, you never know when you'll need the most essential items. My husband and sister insist I once pulled a turkey baster out of my pocketbook, and although I do carry a lot, I adamantly deny the story.

It seems as if over the past few years, our handbags have morphed from small, clutch-type entities into extra-large carry-all totes. Many designers actually create the same bag in several sizes: mini, regular and oversized. After all, there's the wallet, cell phone, cosmetics, iPod, regular glasses, sunglasses, Kleenex -- and those are merely the essentials.

I will often have to throw in a file or two and my mini laptop if need be.

Chiropractors report treating an increasing number of women complaining of neck, shoulder and back pain stemming from carrying their huge purses.

According to Dr. David Golden, an orthopedic surgeon at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center Hospital in Beverly Hills -- where else? -- "the effects of carrying a heavy purse are similar to those of exercising too strenuously. Usually the pain will be temporary. You need to carry 50 pounds or more to cause lasting damage to the back."

Many of us carry a purse weighing 7 to 10 pounds. We tend to carry it on the same shoulder, which might cause one shoulder to become slightly higher than the other.

Add to that talking on the cell phone while carrying the heavy bag, which makes the problem worse because, in addition to carrying too much weight, you are lifting the shoulder at the same time to hold the phone to your ear.

Besides large shoulder bags, many women carry small top-handle pocketbooks with handles that rest on the forearm. This can lead to elbow and wrist problems.

Treatment options include massage, warm packs, anti-inflammatory medicine and resting the injured muscles.

So organize the Vuittons, Pradas and Chanels and try these tips to prevent any problems:

Clean: Once a week, go through your purse and empty out the junk.

Organize: When putting stuff back in, divide among all the pockets and flaps to evenly distribute the weight.

Adjust: Adjustable straps let you place the bag across your body (messenger-bag style), which takes the stress off the shoulder and prevents positioning the shoulders unevenly.

Widen: Thin straps and chains can cut into your shoulder and don't distribute the pressure as well as wide ones.

Transfer: Switch the bag from shoulder to shoulder when possible.

Straighten: Rather than lift your shoulder to keep the bag from slipping, try to square your shoulders and keep them even.

Notice nowhere did I say give up the bag. You just never know when there's a turkey around that needs a quick baste.