Have back pain? These 5 everyday clothing items may be the cause

Researchers identify five everyday clothing items that are linked to back pain in a new study. pinkypills / Corbis / Getty Images

Beauty is pain, as the saying goes — a pain in the back, to be more specific.

According to a new study by the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), there are certain pieces of clothing women wear almost every day that are possibly linked to major back pain issues – and most women are unaware of it.

While 28 per cent of women say they are aware that clothing may impact their back or neck pain and posture, 33 per cent don’t know the potential harm they could be doing.

READ MORE: 5 things that cause back pain and easy posture exercises to fix it

“I am always surprised at how many of my patients are unaware that their clothing and accessories can affect their back health and their posture and, equally, how many decide their outfit-choice outweighs their pain,” Tim Hutchful, BCA chiropractor, says in a statement. “Some of the most popular items of clothing can have a hidden health impact. While overloaded and heavy handbags are a common culprit, some more unexpected items like skinny jeans can also wreak havoc.”

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These items are damaging, Hutchful says, because they restrict free movement in areas like the hips and knees, and affect the way women are holding up their bodies.

(However, the research has been rejected by the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, BBC News reports.)

So what are the top five fashions that the BCA says may be causing such pain?

  1. Skinny jeans
  2. Oversized bags and bags worn on one side of the body
  3. Coats with large fluffy hoods
  4. High heel shoes
  5. Backless shoes, ex. Mules

Other items that may be causing issues include asymmetric hemlines, oversized sleeves and hoods and heavy jewelry, Hutchful says.

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“Whilst we are certainly not saying stop wearing your favourite clothes altogether like most things in life, moderation is best and there are easy ways you can reduce the impact on your posture and overall health,” Hutchful points out. “For example, try and limit the number of time you wear skinny jeans or high heels every week so you’re giving your body a break, or try investing in a backpack for days when you have a lot to carry around.”

Within the last few years, some doctors have even warned against wearing skinny jeans.

In 2015, researchers documented one case where a 35-year-old woman’s legs and ankles swelled up and became weak to the point where she couldn’t walk because her skinny jeans were so tight.

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She was diagnosed with compartment syndrome, a condition where confined parts of the body become swollen from increased pressure to the area.

READ MORE: Sit up straight: Why your smartphone is wreaking havoc on your back

The woman had been wearing unusually tight pants while she was helping a friend pack and move. Her fashion choice resulted in nerve and muscle damage in her legs.

But Dr. Mary O’Keeffe, a back pain expert at the University of Limerick, tells BBC News that the research done by the BCA has no evidence to support its claims.

“Simply put, skinny jeans, parka jackets, necklaces and any other clothing items do not cause back pain,” she says to BBC News. “There is no scientific evidence of an association. This may be counterintuitive, as women with back pain might report back pain when wearing or carrying certain items. However, to assume that the back pain was caused by these is definitely putting the horse before the cart.”

To prevent potential pain like this from happening, however, Hutchful offers several  suggestions to keep one’s posture in check for all those fashion-forward folk:

  • Variation: Wearing similar clothing every day can cause back pain due to the restriction of certain body parts. Shift the pressure on these areas by varying your style of clothing every day.
  • Keep it loose: Tighter clothes restrict your movement, so stick to looser fitting clothing. If jeans are your thing, trade in your skinny jeans for boot cut.
  • Put the bag down: Be mindful of the bag you’re carrying around. The bigger and fuller of stuff it is, the more strain you’re putting on your neck and back. Regularly check to see if there are things you can take out of your bag so you’re not carrying an extra load. Backpacks, however, are the best option for your posture because they distribute the weight equally across your shoulders. Hutchful also says to avoid bags and clutches you carry under your arm because they tend to pull one shoulder lower than the other and twist your neck and spine. If your bag does have on strap, however, alternate shoulders when you carry it. If your bag has a long strap, wear it across the body.
  • High heels: These types of shoes force wearers to hold their body in a way that promotes tension in the spine. So should you choose to wear heels, try to incorporate trainers or shoes with a lower heel every so often to counteract the potential damage. Chunkier heels and wedges are other options you can choose over a stiletto.
  • The right support: It’s what’s on the inside of your clothing that can also count. Women need to make sure their bras fit properly so that the shoulders don’t absorb all the strain. Look for a bra that has an under band, but it shouldn’t be too tight or too lose. Make sure the centre-fold sits close to your body and that the straps are not too tight on your shoulders.


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