My head is throbbing. My back is killing me. My right hip clicks. My left leg is dragging. I can barely hang up my coat. I stagger into my bedroom and lay myself out on the bed, hoping a talented mortician will attend to me.

All the doctors I’ve consulted say I’m in excellent shape -– for a woman my age. Oh, please, let’s not even go there! What they really mean is: “Beats me.”

But I just figured it out. I’ve been carrying around a handbag as big as a footlocker. That’s the trouble.

Why am I doing this? Because –- stay with me — I’m a fashion whore. Who needs the bag EVERYBODY needs. Who now needs a chiropractor.

Every time I launch an excavation to find something in my purse — and Lord knows I keep adding items because the damned thing can hold the contents of my closet and my fridge and my grandchildren’s toy cabinets — the exercise raises such a sweat that you could wring out my underwear. (Not a problem, actually, because yesterday, while looking for my Advil, I came across three panties, two bras and five unmatched knee highs. Oh, yes, it comes back — detritus from physical therapy. And why do I need that? Hmmm.)

Clearly I’m not alone. The New York Times today has a story titled, simply, “Ouch! My Bag Is Killing Me,” that details the physical therapy needed to relieve back, neck and shoulder pain caused by lugging around heavy loads.

“In the last year or so, I’ve been seeing the same kinds of issues with adult women that I’m used to seeing with kids who carry heavy backpacks on one shoulder,” said Karen Erickson, a chiropractor who has a private practice on the Upper West Side, and also serves as a spokeswoman for the American Chiropractic Association. “They’re experiencing neck pain — not just while they’re carrying their purses, but all the time. A lot of women even get bad headaches.”

“Lately, when a patient comes in complaining of these symptoms, I walk over and pick up her purse,” she added. “Without fail, it weighs a ton.”

But no one seems willing to just let the bags go.

Robin Ehrlich, the director of the Eastside Massage Therapy Center, tells the Times, “It’s an epidemic … We’re busier than ever before right now and big bags are the reason.”

Still, she wouldn’t tell a client to leave the gigantic Mulberry Elgin tote at home.

“It’s like telling a woman, ‘You cannot wear Manolo Blahniks,'” she said. “It’s just not realistic.”

These fashion statements and their kin are so expensive a new industry has sprung up. Bag rentals by the week, by the month. Time sharing a purse? When it’s that big and expensive? Good idea. Even the inexpensive ones are unconscionably priced. Per square inch, it’s cheaper to buy a McMansion in Palm Beach. And that comes with plumbing.

Author Winifred Gallagher has turned the bag obsession into a book:

In her new book “It’s in the Bag. What Purses Reveal — and Conceal” she shows how a designer bag has become a symbol of how far women have come. Her research shows how closely the rise of handbags parallels the emergence of women in the world.

Until the 1920s, when women started traveling and leaving the house alone, women didn’t carry purses.

“Women suddenly became a lot more liberated,” she says.

And with that liberation, they needed some sort of bag to carry their compacts, lipsticks and money.

It wasn’t until the 1980s — when women began cracking the glass ceiling and figuring out how to juggle a career and motherhood — that handbags became a true fashion accessory and designers began tempting them with more expensive leathers and exclusive designs.

“All these women had more complicated lives,” she says. “They needed a nice-looking vehicle for their multitasking lives.”

Except now carrying around all this storage is taking its toll on our backs — and our wallets.

Seriously, this has gotten out of hand. The New York Times “On The Street” photo feature from Nov. 26 showed women dwarfed by shiny black $995 Chanel bags that even the Style Section says look like garbage bags. On Dec. 3, part two of what has become a three-part series: purses that look like goodie bags from a S&M party. Let’s see what the final part in this trilogy turns up on Dec. 10.

Just out of camera range are people like the woman I often pass near the holiday tree in Rockefeller Center. She’s eating beside a steam vent, cradling a brown paper bag. In it may be everything she owns.

I’ve already given up the sexy high heels, glad to still be upright in the evening. Now I’m ditching the baggage. Strident warrior for change –- that’s me. I will storm the retail barricades! I will demand safe accessories! Small bags. Small straps. Simple hardware. Follow me, if you dare! Join the revolution! Seventh Avenue, Milan, Paris –- they will bow to our demands, if they hear our voices!

First thing -– heed the call to arm yourself with a small bag. Maybe you’ll have to reach for something old, from the back of the closet, because, for the moment, anyway, you can’t find a grown-up’s handbag in a rational size. We don’t need all that volume. All we need is what fits in the bags we used to carry.

I hope the New York Times runs my picture with the old black clutch my mother gave me 30 years ago. I hope your hometown paper splashes you on the style page, too. What’ll we do with all that renewed arm strength and all that money burning a hole in our wallets? I know. Spread it around. To those who carry everything they own in a brown paper bag.

I feel better already.

Elizabeth Hemmerdinger, a playwright and screenwriter, is on the board of Women’s Voices for Change.

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  • Lenore Eskow December 20, 2006 at 8:08 pm

    After reading Elizabeth’s column, I emptied my “tote bag” size purse and laughed along with her at what I found in there!! I’m taking bets on how long I can keep the weight of the bag down and see if my neck pain disappears.

    Reply
  • karen mehiel December 12, 2006 at 9:19 am

    Eureka – mystery solved! I can now share with my doctor why I am burdened with sciatica. His ridiculous diagnosis for this ailment: “Possibly skiing, running – oh, really – just aging.” The oversize bag as the culprit… makes terrific sense to me.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  • Janice Goldberg December 8, 2006 at 11:37 am

    Just read your essay and laughed because I had a very similar conversation with a friend as we toured up Fifth Avenue this afternoon, taking in the Christmas windows….about the large bags. And we even talked about the small clutch bags we have from our mothers…so you know you are not alone. I for one, opted out of big bags a long time ago and opted instead for pockets. May not look as snazzy but sure saves my back and ‘pocketbook’.

    Reply
  • mary meadow December 8, 2006 at 8:18 am

    OK now I read the new piece and loved it. I have read the articles
    you talked about in the NY Times about the bags. I only carry small
    bags just for that reason. Your article was right on! I loved it
    and passing it on to friends, Thanks, Mary

    Reply
  • Cynthia December 8, 2006 at 1:57 am

    Elizabeth Hemmerdinger’s column on the unbelievable burden stylish handbags have become rings true. About a year ago I downsized as she recommends doing and I found that it really did make my shoulder and elbow feel better, not to mention improve my posture.
    The latest trend of purses that must set off metal detectors routinely is not helping to lighten the load. Clearly she has seen the light (both in terms of vision and her aching back!) A witty and well-written piece.

    Reply
  • Helen Stein December 7, 2006 at 5:36 pm

    The older I get, the more aches and pains there are and it’s not just from heavy bags but it is great to be here and enjoying life!!!!!!

    Reply
  • regina peruggi December 7, 2006 at 5:15 pm

    Following two herniated discs in my neck I have become liberated of the 100 lb. shoulder bag….but the wallet that never closes, that carries the twenty pound gold bars….that’s another story!

    Reply