Wearing clothes that are too small for you doesn’t just look unsightly — as MATTHEW BARBOUR reveals, they can trigger all sorts of health problems.
RISKS: Stress incontinence, heartburn, hyperventilation, panic attacks.
Many women swear by control pants, which hold your stomach in to make it look flatter. But tummy-taming underwear could also cause some unexpected — and unpleasant — side-effects.
‘Control underwear is the 21st-century version of the corset, with all the same health risks,’ says Richard Bricknell, director at the Bristol Physiotherapy Clinic.
The increased pressure on your lower stomach can force acid up to the gullet, leading to heartburn. Over time, this could contribute to inflammation, ulcers and, in extreme cases, oesophageal cancer.
Meanwhile, by artificially holding in your stomach, control pants prevent your diaphragm from descending fully while breathing, which can lead to hyperventillation, panic attacks and stress incontinence.
‘If there’s pressure on your stomach and you sneeze or cough, that pressure is forced down and not out, and could lead to an embarrassing leak,’ he says.
‘Conditions such as reflux and irritable bowel syndrome can also worsen because of tight pants. Worn day in, day out, there could be very real health risks.’
RISKS: Nerve pain in the leg, heartburn, aggravated hernia.
Trendy skinny jeans could, in fact, leave you hobbling. Research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal reported that figure-hugging trousers significantly increased the risk of the condition meralgia paresthetica, compression of the nerve running from the pelvis into the outer thigh.
This results in sensations of tingling, numbness and burning. But women who switched from skinny jeans to looser clothing found their symptoms disappeared after four to six weeks.
Meanwhile, overweight men who squeeze into tight trousers might aggravate an otherwise silent abdominal hernia, warns Dr Octavio Bessa, a gastroenterologist at Stanford University.
Writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association, he said 80 per cent of patients who presented with abdominal pain and heartburn after meals wore trousers at least 3in smaller than their waist.
A belt or waistband should sit just above the hips, he says, so trousers can ‘hang’ without placing pressure on the abdomen.
TIES AND COLLARS
RISKS: Glaucoma, headaches, dizziness, shoulder pain.
The annual increase in sales of control pants in one High Street store
Shirts with constricting collars and over-tight ties can increase the risk of serious eye disease, according to a study in the British Journal of Ophthalmology.
They put pressure on the jugular vein in the neck, in turn raising the internal pressure of the eye, causing it to bulge. Increased pressure is one of the primary causes of glaucoma, a sight-threatening disorder affecting thousands of Britons.
Seven in ten men buy dress shirts with a collar size too small for them, according to a Cornell University study, suggesting they may be refusing to accept middle-aged spread.
This can restrict blood flow to the brain through the carotid arteries, leading to headaches, blurred vision and dizziness, as well as increasing tension in the back and shoulders.
RISKS: Fungal foot infections, bunions, hammer toes.
British women now spend more than £30 million a year fixing medical problems such as bunions, corns, and trapped nerves caused by ill-fitting shoes.
Bunions run in families, but they are often triggered by ‘years of squashing feet into tight shoes and can be excruciatingly painful if left untreated,’ says podiatrist Simon Costain, of the Centre for Gait and Posture in London.
Meanwhile, cramping your toes in shoes that are too small is the main cause of hammer toe, a deformity caused by bending the toe joints out of shape so they curl up instead of lying flat.
And athlete’s foot, a fungal infection, can affect anyone who wears tight shoes for long periods due to insufficient airflow around the feet. The retained heat and moisture provide the perfect conditions for the fungi to thrive in.
‘Any tight shoes can lead to blisters, corns and calluses, ingrown toenails and swollen ankles, forcing fluid out of the feet into the ankles where it pools,’ adds Costain.
Swollen ankles can also be caused by tight socks, belts, bras or even rings, he says.
‘The lymph system is like a river, and any dam placed at any point in the river stops the flow to points below the dam.’
Tight shoes are particularly bad for diabetics, who are at serious risk of foot problems such as ulcers, which, if become infected, can require amputation of the leg.
RISKS: Cystitis, fungal infections, male infertility.
Having a visible panty line isn’t just a fashion faux pas — it could also cause a nasty yeast infection, cautions Dr Geeta Nargund, senior consultant gynaecologist and lead for reproductive medicine services at St George’s University Hospital in London.
‘Tight knickers of any style, particularly those made of synthetic materials which don’t allow air and moisture to circulate, can cause thrush and a range of other itchy skin conditions.
‘Thong-style knickers can also transfer bacteria forwards, leading to infections such as cystitis.
Bacteria thrive in the warm, moist environment created by tight pants — nylon and other synthetic materials are particularly bad, but even tight cotton can cause problems,’ she says.
‘The risk of infections is particularly high with women with lower oestrogen levels who have gone through, or are going through, the menopause.’
Tissues in this area need normal oestrogen levels to remain moist and healthy and protect against bacteria.
‘For these women, wearing tight underwear should be avoided at all costs.’
She adds that men are at risk, too, as figure-hugging underpants can cause infertility and damage to the testicles. ‘Testicles hang in the scrotum to keep cool — they need to be 2.2c cooler than the core body temperature,’ explains Dr Nargund.
‘If men wear tight underwear or trousers, the testicles become too hot, so testosterone and sperm production decrease — a common reason for male infertility.
‘If a couple are having infertility problems, one of the first things I suggest is the man switching to loose-fitting boxer shorts.’
Simon Costain adds a common and often missed cause of ankle and leg swelling in men is tight pants, because they prevent the natural flow of lymph fluid.
RISKS: Back and shoulder pain, breathing problems.
The current method of bra measuring is outdated, researchers at the University of Portsmouth claimed last month.
Most stores measure under the bust and then around the fullest part, to get a back and cup size. But the technique, formulated in the Thirties, was only designed to go up to a D-size cup, while more than half of British women now have a cup size of E or greater.
If the cup or back size isn’t correct, the weight of the breasts goes straight to the shoulders rather than spread through the back evenly, explains chiropractor Rachael Lancaster, from the Freedom Back Clinics in Leeds.
‘I regularly see women with large breasts and severe mid-back pain because their bras don’t provide enough support. Combined with bad posture and sitting at a desk for hours on end, the spine is pulled out of alignment.’
But it’s not just big-busted ladies who are suffering.
‘Increasingly, I’m seeing small-breasted women who have back pain because they wear poorly-fitting gel-filled bras, which are designed to create the illusion of larger breasts,’ says Lancaster. ‘The weight of the bra puts extra pressure on the back.’
Meanwhile, push-up bras may restrict movement of the collar bone and upper ribs, which can lead to pain, breathing problems and even muscle wastage.
‘Getting a proper bra fitting is paramount,’ says Lancaster.
The Portsmouth researchers said women should take the five-step ‘best fit’ approach: trying the same bra in a number of sizes; assessing the length of the straps; the shape of the underwire; how well the back and cups fit; and whether the front band is in contact with the breastbone.