Losing the Nerve to Wear Skinny Jeans
One woman’s story of nerve damage and a hospital stay may scare the tight pants off you
File under “what not to wear when helping someone move”: A 35-year-old woman in Australia recently landed in the hospital after a day of squatting to pack the contents of a relative’s cupboards. Her skinny jeans felt increasingly tight and uncomfortable as the day progressed, but she kept going. As she walked home that evening, her feet became numb and flopped when she lifted them. She tripped and collapsed on the ground. She lay there for hours before being found.
According to her doctors, the jeans had compressed both peroneal nerves (which branch from the sciatic nerve in the leg) near the knee, and affected her foot nerves, too. She was given IV fluids and stayed in the hospital for four days before the swelling subsided and she regained nerve function.
Her case was extreme, but skinny jeans can definitely lead to health issues, says Paul Wright, MD, chair of neurology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York and Long Island Jewish Medical Center, New Hyde Park, New York. The peroneal nerve, on the side of the knee, ''is very susceptible to compression," he says.
The problem, he says, occurred because the woman didn't appear to pay attention to the symptoms. She may have noticed numbness, he says, and decided to just work through it.
Other hazards of tight jeans and low riders
Tight jeans can also affect nerves further up your leg, Wright says, including the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve of the thigh. "It causes numbness and tingling and burning over the front outside part of the thigh.'' This is more common, he finds, than problems with the peroneal nerves.
Low-rider jeans, with a waistband below the natural waist, can also cause health issues. Researchers have reported that girls who wore low-waisted jeans and exposed their hips to weather year-round developed an inflammatory skin condition called perniosis. The skin turns red, tingles and stings and develops itchy lesions.
Men: Let your pants out
In men, pants that are too tight aroundthegroin can lead to torsion of the testicles. In this dangerous and very painful condition the testicle rotates and can cut off the blood supply, usually requiring emergency surgery.
If you've gained a bit in the midriff and wear the same belt as before without loosening it, you could have trouble, too, Wright says. The extra weight, he says, ''pushes the belt down and you have compression of the same nerve'' as the one too-tight jeans compress. Policemen who wear belts with walkie-talkies are especially vulnerable to this problem, says Wright, as are handymen who wear belts with a lot of tools attached.
Staying fashionable and healthy
"Most of the issues with tight clothing are likely associated with compression," says Jennifer Molano, MD, an assistant professor of neurology and rehabilitation medicine at The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine. Being overweight can also play a role, she says.
You may not want to give up your tight clothing, but you should pay attention to any symptoms that could be related to it, Wright says. "If you get symptoms such as numbness or even weakness after wearing tight clothing, you obviously have to reduce the restriction of the clothing," Wright says.
If symptoms still don't go away, you should call a doctor, he says.