If you have a body you’re proud of, thanks to hours of lifting weights and watching your diet, you may on occasion show it off by wearing something form-fitting, but make sure it’s not TOO constrictive. As a recent news story showed, wearing tight clothing, in this case, “skinny jeans” could land you in the hospital.
Are Your Skinny Jeans TOO Tight?
Recently, a woman donned a pair of skinny jeans to help her friend move to a new apartment. While milling around her friend’s old apartment, she squatted down time after time to pick items up with the skinny jeans hugging her legs. By the end of the day, she could no longer feel her legs because of leg swelling and nerve compression and fell while walking through a park. When she couldn’t get up, she had to crawl to the side of the road and hail a passing taxi to transport her to the hospital.
Sadly, she went on to spend four days in the hospital getting treatment to repair the damage the form-fitting jeans did to her muscles, nerves, and blood vessels. The swelling in her legs was so pronounced that medical personnel had to cut her skinny jeans off. Lab studies showed she had abnormally high levels of creatine kinase, an enzyme that rises when muscles are damaged.
The diagnosis was rhabdomyolysis and compartment syndrome – a condition marked by the build-up of pressure within a muscle. When muscles swell inside a space that’s too tight, it can quickly damage tissues by blocking the blood supply they need for survival. Muscles are surrounded by fascia, the connective tissue that doesn’t stretch or expand easily. So when pressure builds up, it can’t be easily released. People sometimes develop compartment syndrome when they have an arm or leg in a tight cast and less commonly from wearing clothing that’s too tight. Some people are more prone to developing compartment syndrome because their fascia is overly rigid.
Can Wearing Tight Clothing Cause Nerve Damage?
Compartment syndrome from wearing tight clothing is rare, but what isn’t so rare is a condition called meralgia paresthetica, another health problem caused by, among other things, wearing tight pants. With meralgia paresthetica, the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve that supplies sensation to the outer aspect of the thigh is compressed by constrictive clothing, usually a pair of tight pants. Pregnancy, having diabetes, and being overweight are also risk factors for this condition. Fortunately, damage to the nerve usually isn’t permanent, although surgery may occasionally be needed.
If you wear a compression garment or shapewear that makes your tummy and hips look slimmer for a night out on the town, you’re at higher risk for meralgia paresthetica. Better to tone up those areas through exercise than wear something overly constrictive to push in your hips or tummy.
Can Tight Clothing Cause Spinal Problems?
Ask a chiropractor and they’ll tell you not to wear clothing that limits movement of your hips and core. Why? Doing so tightens the muscles that support your spine and throws off your postural alignment. A study published in Applied Ergonomics showed wearing tight pants restricts movement of the lower hips and trunk. As a result, the lumbar spine has to work harder to compensate. It’s always risky to limit movement of one part of the kinetic chain since another part has to take up the slack.
It’s not just tight pants that are a problem but tube and pencil skirts that force you to take short steps and place greater stress on your joints. Combine a tube skirt with high heels and you make the problem even worse by throwing off your center of gravity. Your risk of injury is higher too when you slip into a tight tube or pencil skirt. Ever tried to squat down or bend over to pick something up in a narrow skirt? It’s not easy – or safe.
Don’t forget – you may not feel the impact wearing tight clothing has on you right away, unless you develop an acute injury. Think of the risk as being cumulative over time. Keep in mind that anything that alters your natural gait and stride can create back and spine problems over time.
Digestive Issues and Yeast Infections
Wearing tight clothing around your waist or abdomen increases the pressure inside your abdominal cavity. This pressure pushes up on your diaphragm and can trigger or worsen acid reflux symptoms. So, if you have heartburn, indigestion or bloating after a meal, check to see if your pants are too tight, and if you have on tight clothing, watch how much you eat! Clothing with tight waistbands and belts that constrict your waist or tummy are common culprits as are compression garments like Spanx.
Finally, tight clothing that reduces air flow to your “private parts” place you at greater risk for vaginal yeast infections. When you walk around in tight pants, moisture builds up in your crotch area and serves as a breeding ground for Candida, the fungi that cause yeast infections.
The Bottom Line
Not only is constrictive clothing uncomfortable, but it may also be hazardous to your health. If you wear something tight, keep it on for the least amount of time possible. Just as you save your stilettos for a special occasion, treat tight clothing the same way. It’s not comfy nor is it healthy. Wearing pants that are tight around the calves is especially risky when it’s warm outside and you’re standing or sitting a lot. The warm weather and standing can cause leg swelling and with tight pants on, your calves can only expand so much, leading to a build-up of pressure.
The take-home message? Be fashionable but sensible about what you put on.
Applied Ergonomics xxx (2013) 1e9. “Effects of restrictive clothing on lumbar range of motion and trunk muscle activity in young adult worker manual material handling”
Medical Daily. “Fashion Victim In Tight Pants Experiences Nerve And Muscle Damage: Medical Conditions Caused By Skinny Jeans” June 22, 2015.
Related Articles By Cathe: