Spanx and other shapewear garments: Harmful?

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“My Spanx are killing me!” Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer once told talk show host Ellen DeGeneres when detailing the aftermath of going “triple-spanx” to wear a slinky red carpet gown.

“It’s wonderful because it gives you the illusion of an hourglass — with the sand kind of spread out,” Spencer joked. Millions would agree with the benefits of a product so popular that it has been endorsed by Oprah Winfrey. Spanx is now a billion dollar company.

But, what price should one be willing to pay for beauty ? Nerve damage? Stymied digestion? These are just two of the results doctors say come with donning constricting shapewear, regardless of the brand.

No, occassionally wearing Spanx (or other shapewear labels) is not going to kill you. But some women wear these mesh corsets everyday — and they are very popular among African-American women. Experts agree this may pose a danger to one’s health.

In an interview with The Huffington Post, doctors described the damage done by shapewear when worn excessively.

Digestive tract aggravations 

According to Dr. Karen Erickson, the extreme tightness of Spanx and similar products constricts the natural movement of the bowels, which is crucial to proper digestion. People also tend not to want to go to bathroom when wearing these elastic contraptions, which puts undue compression on the bladder.

“You’ve got all of this pressure on your bladder from the shapewear pressing down,” Erickson said. “If you postpone urinating, it can cause stress incontinence, where you leak, or it can exaggerate stress incontinence with people who already have it.”

Dr. John Kuemmerle mentioned that acid reflux and heartburn can also be worsened. He told the online outlet that people with irritable bowl syndrome, other bowel disorders, or incontinence should carefully consider wearing Spanx, as this and other brands can aggravate these conditions.

Erosive esophagitis is another digestive tract concern.

Impact on muscles, nerves and breathing

The cinching nature of shapewear around the thighs and abdominal region can also impact nerve function, the ability of the lungs to expand, and the muscles that affect posture.

Consistent users of these apparatuses for postural support might be weakening their bodies, when greater core strength is necessary.

“Shapewear is not a substitute for having strong muscles,” Erickson explained. “Shapewear’s a little different in that it’s not therapeutically designed — it’s cosmetically designed.”

In addition, shallow breathing caused when one’s diaphragm cannot expand due to squeezing is another ding to well-being.

Even scarier? Tingling — both permanent and temporary — caused by nerves in the legs being pinched. “It’s like putting these giant rubber bands around your upper thighs and tightening them when you sit,” Erickson said. This pinching action can also contribute to varicose veins, blood clots, and lymph congestion — leading to swollen ankles. When this happens, you can try varicose vein treatment.

Prevention is key

On a less serious note, infected hair follicles and yeast infections, caused by the fact that Spanx is a garment that does not breath, thus retaining moisture, is another consideration. Overweight people, diabetics, and those who sweat excessively need to watch out for these worries.

But, authorities stress that Spanx can be worn safely if used in moderation — and with the right fit. Properly-fitted shape wear should not cut sharply into any body part, should be easy to put on and take off, and should only smooth the body’s shape, not radically transform it.

“You want it to do its job, but you don’t want to get something so small that it’s damaging you,” Erickson concluded.

Great, simple advice.

Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter @lexisb