Whenever you find yourself complaining of a cricked neck, aching back or noisy knees, don’t immediately blame your office chair or an over-enthusiastic Zumba class — it could be down to your clothes.
Tight trousers and pencil skirts can damage muscles and joints as much as high heels and heavy bags, leaving you in pain. Here, chiropractor Tim Hutchful, from the British Chiropractic Association, highlights the worst wardrobe offenders.
The problem with straight sided, slim-fitted skirts is that they clamp your knees together, making it difficult to balance and bend. Squatting to pick something up from a low drawer or shelf becomes difficult, too. ‘The best way to crouch safely is to bend the knees,’ Mr Hutchful says. ‘But, in a pencil skirt your movement is limited. Over time the damage and strain can become cumulative — you might not feel anything straight away, but if you wear tight skirts regularly, you could be setting yourself up for a pulled muscle or even disc problems.’
The muscles, tendons and joints of the neck struggle to cope with the strain of balancing the 10 lb to 12 lb weight of the average head (equivalent to five bags of sugar) all day, so adding a heavy necklace can tip the balance. ‘Anything that pulls the neck forwards or backwards tips the head away from its point of neutral balance,’ says Mr Hutchful. ‘This can create neck tension, pain and damage, and long-term could encourage a slouched posture with damaging consequences for the back.’
If it’s not too tight, and contains plenty of Lycra, support underwear can have a surprisingly beneficial effect because it can act like the compression clothing that top athletes wear to improve performance by increasing blood and lymphatic flow. However, wedge yourself into something too constricting and you could be in trouble. Not only will shapewear restrict breathing but, if it is tight enough to limit movement in the middle of your body, it will put abnormal loads on parts of your spine. ‘If you restrict movement in one part of the spine, something has to compensate,’ he says. ‘This can trigger pain and ultimately damage in the upper or lower back.’
Wearing high heels too often can be bad for your feet and bad for your back. As well as triggering hammer toes and bunions, heels can cause the calf muscles to shorten, which can lead to circulation problems, knee damage and back pain. To minimise damage, keep high-heel time short — wear trainers when walking to and from work and stick to a small heel when possible. Also, alternate your shoe wardrobe, wearing different shoes (and heel heights) every day.
HALTER NECK TOP
A halter-neck bra, bikini, or tightly fitted top can pull the neck forwards particularly if the strap around your neck has to support a large or heavy bust. ‘The strain on your neck will create muscle tension and can pull you in to a highly damaging form of posture called “anterior carriage” where the neck sticks forwards on the body, with the shoulders rounded and slumped,’ says Mr Hutchful. This is a common cause of neck, upper back and shoulder pain.
A large bust needs more support than can usually be offered by a pretty, lacy bra. ‘The thin straps of a fashion bra can put too much pressure on the shoulders,’ says Mr Hutchful. Try to find bras with thick straps for everyday use and wear racer-back sports bras whenever possible to spread the strain across your shoulders.
We’ve long known the danger of lugging a huge bag on one shoulder, but the Victoria Beckham-inspired trend for ‘displaying’ your designer purchase in the crook of your forearm could not be worse. This one-sided weight-lifting can increase the risk of muscle strain and pain in the neck, shoulders and upper back — and can even trigger tension headaches. Carrying a large bag over your shoulder is no better, particularly if you always use the same shoulder. Don’t overfill your bag (‘do you need a litre of water?’ asks Mr Hutchful), hold it by the handle, or over one shoulder, switching sides regularly.
Jeans that grip tightly around the waist, hips, thighs and calves can make a normal walking action impossible. ‘If you aren’t able to take a bouncing stride, you lose the shock-absorbing qualities of a natural walk,’ says Mr Hutchful. ‘This can create undue pressure in the joints.’ Wearing a tight belt could exacerbate the problem, triggering leg pain. And don’t sit for long periods with your phone in your back pocket, the imbalance caused by having one buttock higher than the other could cause back and hip pain.