Could You Have 'Spanx Syndrome'? The Body Shaper's Hidden Health Hazards
The iconic body shapers have made 41-year-old inventor Sara Blakely a billionaire, but they've also been linked to health issues including pain, UTIs, and more.
By Amy Solomon
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FRIDAY, Mar. 9, 2012 — You've got to hand it to Sara Blakely: At age 41, the inventor of SPANX is the youngest woman to make Forbes Magazine's 2012 list of world billionaires, and she did it all, as the magazine says, "without help from a husband or an inheritance." Her body shapers have been worn by thousands of women of all shapes, ages, and sizes, from Academy Award-winner Octavia Spencer (who famously admitted wearing three at a time on the red carpet) to Miley Cyrus (who called them "a gift from God") to…well, this writer. And let's not forget SPANX for Men: Tom Hanks says he wore them to tone up his tush under some baggier skivvies while filming a scene inLarry Crowne. So it may be a bit Grinch-y to point out that these popular undergarments have some health hazards attached — but the fact is, they do.
It all started with a blog post from Orly Avitzur, MD, who wrote on the Consumer Reports site in March 2011 about a 15-year-old patient who was suffering from numbness and tingling in her left thigh. As it turned out, the girl, who played soccer on her high school team, was wearing SPANX under her uniform, causing a compressed nerve in her pelvis as well as stomach pain after meals. But she wasn't the only SPANX devotee — the entire team was wearing them.
Spandex, the same material that allows SPANX to hold in your muffin top, may make you look sleeker. But its tightness can also squeeze the nerve that runs down the abdomen to below the hipbone, causing a disorder known as meralgia paresthetica. In an earlier post on Consumer Reports, Dr. Avitzer noted that more and more young women were coming into doctors' offices with signs of the condition like leg pain and aching.
Other skin-tight clothing like skinny jeans or leggings can also cause meralgia paresthetica. A 2007 paper published in the journalMilitary Medicinereported on two cases in U.S. soldiers stationed in Iraq who were wearing protective body armor.
Pain isn't the only health issue linked to SPANX. On an episode of his popular show, Dr. Mehmet Oz told an audience member who admitted to wearing spandex shapewear every day that their tightness makes it easy for bacteria to move from the anus to the vaginal area, causing urinary tract infections if they're not washed often. He also advised not wearing shapewear after eating to avoid heartburn.
Most of these potential problems can be averted through good common sense. Like any tight clothing, SPANX shouldn't be worn for days on end, and it's a smart idea to wash them after each wearing to get rid of bacteria. Even meraglia paresthetica will go away on its own if you stop wearing tight clothing, although if there's extensive damage to the nerve, it may take a while.
But no matter the health concerns, it's a sure bet that most devotees, whether they're celebrities or your next-door neighbors, wouldn't give up their SPANX for the world.
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