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They say beauty is pain, but what about fashion?
If you're like many women, you probably experience occasional back and neck pain. And now, a new report from the British Chiropractic Association suggests that certain fashion trends — including skinny jeans, oversize handbags and backless shoes — could be to blame.
Dr. Karen Erickson, a chiropractor in New York City, told TODAY Style that it's true: Many of her clients can attribute their poor posture and back pain to their style choices, at least in part, she said.
The biggest culprit? Heavy handbags.
"It's really common that I'll examine a woman and find that on one side, her trapezius, the muscle on top of the shoulder, it's like iron," said Erickson, a member of the American Chiropractic Association. "And I'll say, 'This is the side you carry your bag on, isn't it?' And it is."
In some cases, "the shoulder is actually hiked up higher toward the ear, because a lot of women unconsciously raise their shoulder when holding the bag, trying to prevent it from slipping off the shoulder," she continued.
So what's a girl to do? For starters, try to lighten the load. Keep extra makeup and workout clothes at work, so you're not constantly toting everything from home. If you carry your bag on your shoulder, look for a purse that has a thick strap, so the weight is better distributed, and try to remember to switch arms occasionally.
It's also good to consider where the bag hits when you walk. You don't want your purse so low that it knocks against your legs, but you also don't want the bag so high that you can't swing your arms — both create problems with your gait.
"You have to find that sweet spot," Erickson said.
Other options: Consider a backpack (try these grown-up friendly versions) or a smaller crossbody bag, both of which are easier on the back.
You either love them or hate them, but there's no arguing that high heels can be painful.
When your toes are facing down — "I call it the Barbie doll position," Erickson said — you're putting more pressure on the ball of the foot, which is painful and can trigger bunions. You're also shortening the calf muscle, which alters your gate. That puts stress on your low back, Erickson said.
"It overarches the back, and kind of propels you forward," she said. "You have to use your back muscles to pull you upright, so it not only affects your low back, but your neck and shoulders as well."
She recommends that patients wear heels with platforms, so the actual height of the heel doesn't exceed 2 inches.
Mules might be spring's hottest footwear trend, but wear them with caution.
"I like the idea of them — they certainly are a good alternative to heels," Erickson said. "The problem is that if you have to do a bit of walking, there's not good arch support. They also don't stay on your feet."
Shoes should past the "shake test," she said: Shake your foot and if your shoe doesn't fall off, you're good. If your shoes do fall off, that probably means you're scrunching your toes while you walk, to keep the shoes secure.
"That causes a lot of tightness in the arch of the foot and it doesn't let you have a long, lengthy gait," Erickson said.
Holding your body in this unnatural position stresses the spine, so she recommends patients only wear backless shoes occasionally, and never for long walks or commutes.
Are your favorite jeans a potential danger? Unfortunately, yes — but only if they're really, really tight.
"I actually see more issues with Spanx, or people who wear skinny jeans with Spanx," Erickson said.
Extremely tight clothing can compress the nerve in the upper thigh and cause numbness and a condition called meralgia paraesthetica.
"It's not directly related to the spine, but it's something that chiropractors see a lot and we treat, because people think it comes from the spine, like sciatica," Erickson said.
It's easily treated and not usually dangerous, she added. (However, there has been at least one time skinny jeans caused a real health scare: In 2015, a woman was hospitalized for muscle damage from repeatedly squatting while wearing tight jeans.)
And that one accessory we all have...
It's probably the one thing you won't leave the house without: your smartphone.
"It's an accessory that we don't think of as an accessory — we think of sunglasses as an accessory," Erickson said. "But looking down at our phone for hours and hours, it's a really big issue."
That prolonged position puts stress on your cervical spine and causes pain in the neck — literally. (Heard of text neck?)
"We even see it in children, in 7-year-olds," Erickson said.
Lucky for us, there's an easy solution: "I recommend women rest their elbow on their abdomen and hold the phone straight out in front of their eyes," she said. "It makes such a difference."