Fashion and Back Pain

Your Huge Handbag May Be Stylish, but Is It Worth the Pain?

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In the movie Grease, Frenchy tries to calm Sandy down after a botched home ear piercing procedure by reminding her that beauty is pain. It's a tried-and-true sentiment, one that women (and some men) have used since the dawn of stilettos and hot wax. But the pursuit of fashion can pose more serious health issues than a sore earlobe. Though you might look great on the outside, on the inside, your spine may tell a different tale.

It can be hard to understand the connection between what you wear and its effect on your spine. But your fashion choices have a definite impact on the overall health of your back. Below are the 3 biggest culprits—shoes, clothing, and handbags.
Red high heels with measuring tapeAs great as high heels look, they can cause foot and back pain by altering your center of gravity.Shoes
As great as high heels look, they can cause foot and back pain by altering your center of gravity. When your heel is raised up, the positioning of your body is thrown off balance. If you wear high heels—even for a short period of time—your spine may curve abnormally forward to try to maintain balance. Similarly, high heels offer very little stability, as they essentially perch your entire body up on 2 thin spikes.

But high heels aren't the only shoes that lack stability. On the other end of the comfort spectrum, flip flops also leave much to be desired in that area. Your shoes should have sufficient cushioning to support and stabilize your feet, which in turn, help support and stabilize your spine.

Below are a few tips for the spine-friendly shoe shopper:

  • If you refuse to banish high heels from your closet, consider bringing a pair of more comfortable shoes along with you if you know you'll be standing or walking for extended periods of time.
  • If you walk to work or use public transportation, wear a pair of comfortable shoes during your commute and change into stylish shoes when you get to the office.
  • Learn to buy comfortable, supportive shoes. A shoe with some cushion will make it easier to walk with proper posture. Nowadays, there are plenty of footwear options available that are fashionable and support back health.

You may be surprised the impact your clothing has on the health of your spine. Just like wearing uncomfortable shoes, wearing clothes that are too tight compromises your balance. Restrictive clothing, especially when it's worn on the lower body, causes poor posture because it can change the way you perform simple tasks, such as walking and sitting.

Wearing clothes that fit properly will allow you to move comfortably. Instead of worrying about a wardrobe malfunction, you can focus on having better posture—and a healthier back.

Big bags have garnered plenty of attention lately. Not only are they trendy, but they've also gained notoriety for the neck, shoulder, and back pain they cause.

Many people carry large handbags, backpacks, and purses with the straps around one shoulder. You may not realize it, but bags can be heavy—sometimes more than 10% of your body weight. When you put that amount of weight on one side of your body, it can offset the balance of your shoulders, neck, and your low back, causing pain.

Below are some tips to protect your back from heavy handbags:

  • Clean out any excess "stuff" from your handbag. Less weight in your bag equals less pain for you.
  • Choose a bag with a long, wide strap. That way, you can put the strap over your head and wear the bag across your body, messenger style. This will distribute the weight evenly and prevent imbalance.
  • If you can't wear your bag messenger style, occasionally switch the strap from shoulder-to-shoulder to maintain balance.
  • Focus on your posture. Walk upright and don't slouch—this will help keep your body balanced, despite carrying a heavy load.

Woman shopping holding up several handbagsWhen choosing the latest fashion trends to follow, don't forget to take your spine into consideration.When choosing the latest fashion trends to follow, don't forget to take your spine into consideration. Following the "beauty is pain" excuse only gets you so far. Your stilettos may look killer now, but the back pain that could follow may make you wish you kept the shoes in the box.

Commentary by Christina Lasich, MD

Eat right, don't smoke, and exercise daily. These healthy habits can also include watching what you wear. Looking good does not have to cause pain. As discussed here in this article, women and men would be wise to choose well-designed shoes that offer good cushioning, alignment, and stability.

Comfortable clothing also helps improve freedom of movement and hence freedom from pain. And don't forget about those undergarments, which despite being unseen, can have a triple-D impact on spine health.

Another healthy wardrobe choice is a lighter handbag. Handbags, briefcases, and backpacks can be so heavy that they qualify as weapons that attack the neck, mid-back, and low back. Clean out the closet and rid yourself of the enemies that cause killer pain.

By learning what not to wear, you will discover that feeling good with a healthy spine is the ultimate fashion statement. Being pain free is beautiful.

Updated on: 04/03/18
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Ergonomics: The Human Body and Injury Prevention
Christina Lasich, MD
Grass Valley, CA
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