3 Clothing Items That Can Hurt Your Health

Medically reviewed in February 2021

“Kill me, but make me beautiful,” I remember my great-aunt telling me, as she recalled her days of wearing a corset. I laughed at these stories, as I sat in my Umbros and t-shirt; how crazy were women to deal with such discomfort for fashion?! Fast-forward a [cough] few years we’re all wearing the modern day version: sky-high heels and Spanx. 

As an ER doctor, I’ve treated women for countless … “fashion emergencies.” The reality is, women still wear items that aren’t only uncomfortable, but can actually harm our bodies, too.    

So, what can women do to stay safe without ditching their favorite fashions? Luckily, it is possible to look just as beautiful … without the “kill me” part. 

High Heels
They call them “killer heels,” because if you don’t wear them correctly, that’s how they feel. According to one study, college women who wore shoes 3 ½ inches or higher more than three times a week, developed weakness and imbalance in their ankles, which put them at greater risk of ankle injury.  If you’re predisposed to bunions, the more you wear heels, the more likely (and earlier) you are to develop severe bunions.   

Surprise: you can wear sky-high heels without killing your feet. Here’s how to do it:

  • Mix it up – Don’t wear your heels all day. If you can, throw on a pair of supportive flats for your commute or to grab lunch. Don’t wear the same pair of heels every day, so your feet don’t conform to any one shape.
  • Post-purchase modification – I always “Frankenstein” my heels after I buy them. Add heel-guards to the back, arch supports if you need them and, if your foot slides forward, try placing a footpad below the ball of your foot or on top by adhering it to the upper inside of your shoe. 
  • Stretch it out – After a long day of wearing heels, a few simple stretches can save you from foot pain. Try rolling a tennis ball back and forth under your foot, pulling back your toes with a towel to stretch the calf muscles or strengthening your ankles with these exercises.
  • Watch what you buy – Just because you can buy a pair, doesn’t mean you should. I have really wide feet, so those little pointy-toe kitten heels? I’m like Cinderella’s stepsister--there’s absolutely no sense in me buying them because they’ll never be comfy. Try shoes with a platform, which let you get away with a little higher heel or t-strap shoes that will prevent your feet from sliding forward.

Heavy bags
Guilty as charged here. I used to carry a heavy workbag on my right side until a fitness trainer pointed out that my right shoulder was actually shaped differently due to the weight.  Not only can carrying overly heavy bags cause shoulder and neck pain, but the Hospital for Special Surgery notes that it can also lead to numbness in the hand from nerve damage. 

What to do?

  • Consider a backpack - No, I don’t mean the kind you carried in high school (you know, the ones with the reflective stripe).  Fashion houses are getting in on the trend and producing tons of cute styles. 
  • Swap shoulders - Or consider splitting items into two bags (one for each arm) to better distribute the weight.
  • Reduce the load – the American Chiropractic Association says that your bag should never weigh more than 10% of your body weight.
  • Choose lighter material – Got a gorgeous leather bag that weighs five pounds empty? Trade it for a new, lightweight bag.

Tight clothing
You know that moment when you’re sucking in your stomach to zip up the last few inches of your jeans? Or inventing a new yoga position to put on your Spanx? Those acrobatics can put you at risk for a condition called Meralgia paresthetica (MP), which is characterized by tingling, numbness and burning running down the outer side of the thigh. MP is caused by compression of the Lateral Femoral Cutaneous Nerve. In severe cases, you may even notice a patch of skin that’s painful or sensitive to the touch.   

What to do:

  • Ditch the too-tight clothes - Avoid clothing that’s so tight it’s uncomfortable, especially if it pinches at the waistband. A tight waistband can add additional pressure to the nerve. 
  • If you develop symptoms of MP, don’t fear. Symptoms typically resolve after a few days … if you stop wearing the clothing that caused it.
  • Research shows that, depending on the severity of the MP, weight loss or physical therapy may help alleviate symptoms.

Whoever said you have to suffer for fashion just didn’t know the right tricks. Now you do—so, go knock ‘em dead.

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