Tight neckties, high heels, heavy bags and other professional staples can hurt your health.
We’re all fashion victims when we dress for success.
If the first thing you do when you get home from work is kick off your heels or take off your tie, you know that something about your work wardrobe isn’t sitting right. And a growing body of research shows that many go-to professional pieces are putting us off balance and inhibiting our natural body functions. They’re not only painful, they also damage our health — like shapewear that compresses organs, or high heels that cause permanent joint damage.
So Moneyish spoke with medical professionals to identify the six most common workwear culprits that can be bad for your health:
1. Neckties: Men should loosen up; a recent German study found that guys wearing Windsor-knotted ties that were “tightened to the point of slight discomfort” had 7.5% less blood flow to the brain than men who were open-collared shirts, as reported in New Scientist magazine. The researchers said this could be dangerous to those with high blood pressure, and in extreme cases, insufficient blood flow to the brain causes stroke and kills organ tissue. In fact, Lancaster, Calif., Mayor R. Rex Parris responded to the report last week by proposing a local ban on employers forcing workers (like attorneys in courtrooms) to wear neckties, per the Los Angeles Times. A 2003 study also warned too-tight ties can increase pressure in your eyes, a leading cause of glaucoma that can result in vision loss.
2. Heels: As high heels lengthen your legs, they also force you to carry your full weight on the balls of your feet. This puts pressure on your spine, back and knees; can cause tendonitis and joint pain in your ankles and knees; and can permanently shorten your Achilles tendon. “The higher the heel and the bigger the drop, the bigger the problem,” said Dr. Jordan Metzl from the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.
Dr. Miguel Cunha, a podiatrist and founder of Gotham Footcare, adds that heels cause ingrown toenails and hammertoes by compressing the toes together — especially if you add insult to injury by wearing heels with pointed toes. “High heels also aggravate the symptoms and progression of bunion deformities, as the shape of the shoe (often) does not accommodate the normal structure of the forefoot,” he added. If you must wear heels, he suggests sticking to shoes that are just one inch high or a wedge. And minimize your heel time by commuting in sneakers or flats with arch support, and kicking off your heels while you’re sitting at your desk.
But not all flats are your friend: Avoid shoes with no support, such as many summer sandals, flip-flops and ballet flats — they contribute to pronation and the collapse of the arch, which can cause heel pain, shin splints, knee pain and back pain. Look for a shoe with an arch incorporated into its design. “In general, if your shoes are hurting you, you shouldn’t be wearing them,” added Metzl.
3. Heavy bags: Now that we’re cramming our gym clothes, notebook computers and everything else we need for the day in our purses, briefcases and laptop bags, slinging them over the same shoulder every day is causing chronic back and shoulder pain. “When you’re carrying a heavy bag (on one shoulder), you’re tilting your lower back, your lumbar spine, against your pelvis. And when you’re out of alignment, that chronic condition is going to bother your whole back and become chronic back pain,” said Dr. John M. Abrahams from Brain and Spine Surgeons of New York. Consider wearing a chic backpack with two cushioned shoulder straps across both shoulders to evenly distribute the weight. In fact, backpack sales among women ages 25 to 64 have jumped more than 20% over the past two years, according to the NPD Group.
4. Thongs: Sure, they eliminate panty lines in your dress skirts and slacks, but they can also spawn uncomfortable bacterial infections, warned Dr. Adeeti Gupta, an OB-GYN and founder of Walk In GYN Care in Manhattan, especially if the back string is scooting up from your derriere to your vagina. “The thin straps constantly rub against the vulva and the vagina and can cause severe vulvo-vaginal infections, recurring discharge, etc.,” she said, recommending that if you must wear a thong, you wear it as briefly as possible.
The most common complaint is bacterial vaginosis (BV), in which bad bacteria are thriving over the good ones down below — causing itching, discharge and fishy odor, especially after sex. “It can take over women’s lives,” said Gupta. “Along with probiotics, a huge lifestyle change which includes the right kind of clothing (often cotton undergarments) is needed — and believe me, they get better slowly.”
5. Shapewear: Squeezing into these undergarments to flatten your stomach and create that hourglass figure can compress your stomach, intestine and colon, leading to stomach pain, gas, bloating and acid reflux. It can also cause meralgia paresthetica, a painful tingling, numbing and burning sensation in the thighs when there is too much pressure on the nerves passing through the groin. Waist-cinching belts and heavy utility belts worn by police officers and carpenters can create the same symptoms.
Constrictive shapewear “can cause recurrent vaginal infections, such as bacterial vaginosis, since they allow very little breathing room, hence allowing the harmful bacteria to proliferate,” Gupta added. Plus, it can actually make your abs flabbier because the muscles become “lazy” from not having to work anymore, since the corset-like garment is supporting them. She recommends that if you must put on shapewear, to wear it for the shortest period of time possible, and to “take off the stuff as soon as you can, and let the body parts get some air.”
6. Skinny jeans: Casual Fridays and office spaces with increasingly lax dress codes should be a chance to cut loose. But the skinny jeans trend poses another constriction risk; a 35-year-old Australian woman spent four days in the hospital in 2015 after her skin-tight jeans damaged her nerves and calf muscles so much that she showed signs of myonecrosis, or dying muscle tissue. Too-tight jeans can also cause meralgia paresthetica nerve damage, and the British Chiropractic Association has claimed that skinny jeans restrict mobility, which causes pressure in your joints because you lose the “‘bounce’ in your stride and the natural shock-absorbing qualities in your walk.” So look for skinny jeans made with stretchy fabric that give you the fitted look without being so restrictive, and make sure your pants have some wiggle room.
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