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Erin Brady thought it was no big deal to carry her then-13-month-old son, Kyle, across a parking lot so she could show him off to a friend.

But the next morning, her back hurt so much that the 37-year-old stay-at-home mother made an emergency visit to a chiropractor.

Kyle is 21 months old now and fortunately needs less carrying. But Brady is wary of getting hurt again. "I have a feeling this is something that is going to be a problem for a while," she said.

It's an unexpected problem for many parents _ especially the growing number who are waiting longer to start their families.

Larger babies and the stress they cause to women's bodies during birth also contribute, said Hollis Herman, a physical therapist and co-author of How to Raise Children Without Breaking Your Back.

Wonder how a mom or dad can get hurt just taking care of children? Let us count the ways:

Bending over to change diapers, putting kids in the car seat, in the stroller, in the high chair. Folding the stroller and hoisting it into the minivan. Twisting to separate tussling siblings. Giving piggyback rides. Stepping over the safety gate while carrying children and groceries. Nursing the baby on one side, day after day. Lifting the toddler out of his crib, carrying him on one hip while you twist to stir the spaghetti sauce. Hoisting the first-grader out of the car to keep from waking him up. Practicing baseball in the back yard with your Little Leaguer.

Statistics on the prevalence of parental injuries are hard to come by. But chiropractors, orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists say problems are common as the age of parents creeps up.

"There are movements people make every day with a child, with an infant, that you don't think about, but done over and over again can cause overuse injuries," said chiropractor Alan Sokoloff.

Add to that the fact that parents are getting older. While the birth rate declined for women younger than 30 between 1990 and 2002, it rose during the same period for older women _ from 80.8 to 91.5 births per 1,000 women age 30 to 34, and 31.7 to 41.4 births for those age 35 to 39, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

Dr. Nicholas DiNubile, an orthopedic surgeon, said that for many in their late 30s and 40s, parenthood can aggravate dormant problems.

The problems often start during pregnancy, when many women experience carpal tunnel syndrome and sciatica. Hormones weaken the joints and stretch ligaments. Weight gain throws the body off balance, stretches out the abdomen and weakens the back muscles.

Prolonged bed rest, often prescribed by doctors concerned about complications of pregnancy, also can reduce muscle strength.

"The pregnancy and all the missteps (women) can take during the pregnancy is all but inviting a problem in the lower back," said Jerome McAndrews, a former president of the Association of Chiropractic Colleges and spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association. "The older the woman is _ and we don't have a study on this _ I would say the more likely it is she's going to have problems."

Susannah Wolf, 35, a stay-at-home mother, noticed pain in both wrists starting when her son, Samuel, was 5 months old. She's twice received cortisone shots to relieve the symptoms. Doctors told her she has De Quervain's syndrome _ also known as "washerwoman's sprain" _ and that it often strikes new mothers.

When it comes to responding to their children, even well-educated parents can ignore their better instincts.

Chiropractor McAndrews said that although a parent might think to lift from the legs when picking up a heavy box, he or she might not take the same care when comforting a crying toddler. "It's instantaneous, the way they deal with the child," he said.

So how do you prevent the common injuries of child-rearing? And if you're already feeling the pain, how do you find relief?

Experts say that a regular, balanced exercise program often can prevent or improve minor aches and pains.

For more serious problems, a visit to a professional may be required.

Avoiding injury

With a little forethought, parents can reduce the likelihood of being injured by raising kids. Here are some tips from the book How to Raise Children Without Breaking Your Back, by Alex Pirie and Hollis Herman:

+ Alternate the side on which you carry and nurse children whenever possible.

+ Slow down your movements and think in steps. For example, lift the child and then turn.

+ Your little one is pitching a fit in public? First, take a deep breath _ tension in the body can make an injury more likely. Then kneel or squat at the child's level to soothe him. If you have to scoop him up quickly, you'll be in a better lifting position.

+ Take the time to open your child safety gate. Stepping over it can be hazardous, not only because of tripping but because it can injure the back.

+ Though it's convenient, try not to carry your baby in a portable car seat. If you must, alternate sides frequently.

+ Talk to and hug your child as you lift _ you'll naturally exhale and bring the child's weight closer to your body.

_ Baltimore Sun