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Is Your Wardrobe Harming You?

What you wear could physically cause you pain.

Wouldn’t it be nice if we could always dress for comfort? As popular as athleisure is, unfortunately, that’s just not really realistic—some days call for fancy heels, other days for lugging a 40-pound diaper bag. But suffering for either fashion or function’s sake hurts more than in the moment, and certain accessories can do damage to your body. Instead of putting your body through the wringer—now and in the future—swap out these potentially pain-causing culprits for more easy-on-the-body options.

Ditch the Stilettos (or at Least Wear Sparingly)

The fact that sky-high heels can hurt your feet is pretty obvious—wear a pair for an hour and you’ll need no more convincing. Saving your heels only for those special occasions, though, can also save your legs. A small study of 40 young women who wore 4-inch heels more than three times per week found that after about four years of wearing heels regularly, their ankle muscles and joints were weakened, which can cause muscular imbalances that lead to injury. In a second small study of 14 women, researchers found that walking in 3.25-inch heels caused changes to the women’s gaits and affected their knee joints in a way that’s similar to how people who develop knee osteoarthritis walk. Given that 72 percent of women wear heels, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association, and that women and men walk similarly when barefoot, the researchers suggest that heels could be responsible for the greater likelihood of women developing knee osteoarthritis. We’re not saying to trash all your heels if you can’t live without them—just be very discerning of what occasions deserve them.

But Don’t Go All the Way Flat

All this info about high heels shouldn’t send you careening to the total opposite end of the spectrum. As popular as flats are, they come with their own negative aspects, too. When researchers had 15 women walk around in flat shoes with less than one-tenth of an inch of a heel, in 1.5-inch high heels, and in 3.5-inch high heels, they found that there were significant changes to the wearers’ centers of pressure and the distribution of foot pressure when they wore the flat shoes (as well as the 3.5-inch heels). These changes could increase the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Meanwhile, when the women wore the 1.5-inch heels, there were no such changes. Need more evidence? The study that looked at the effect of wearing heels on the knees also had those women walk in 1.5-inch heels. Researchers did not find the same changes in gait when the women walked in the lower heels as when the women walked in the 3.25-inch heels. A slight heel may actually be the best option out there.

Swap Out the Diaper Bag for a Diaper Backpack

Sure, it’s easy to just throw everything into that diaper bag, sling it over your shoulder, and go. But carrying all that weight on one side can really mess up your back. Researchers had 12 women walk carrying bags a variety of ways: a backpack on both shoulders or on one shoulder, and a bag either on the shoulder or across their body. They found that wearing a bag on one shoulder caused compression and fatigue of the shoulder muscles, which can up your risk of injury. Wearing a backpack on both shoulders, on the other hand, reduced muscle activity in the spine, which could help reduce back pain.

Skip the Skinny Jeans

It’s tempting to want to squeeze into skinny jeans, particularly since they go with basically everything. But think again before wearing those second-skin pants all the time. Skinny jeans can restrict free movement in your hips and knees, which can lead to discomfort. Add looser bottoms into the rotation, instead—lean into boyfriend jeans, palazzo pants, and comfy skirts.

Lighten Up Your Load

Women joke about just how many necessities they have on them at all times, but that’s the beauty of a giant tote, right? Well, with beauty comes pain. If you carry the clown-car equivalent of bags, take another look at everything that’s in there and ask yourself if you really need to carry around a convenience store’s worth of snacks. The American Chiropractic Association recommends keeping your bag to no more than 10 percent of your body weight for the sake of your health. And to help ease the load, try alternating which shoulder you carry your bag on, or split the load into two bags, one for each shoulder. Or better yet, wear a backpack.

Ditch the Statement Jewelry

We already put enough pressure on our necks staring at screens all day (have you heard of text neck?). Give your neck a break and avoid heavy jewelry like statement necklaces, which can add even more pressure to your neck, to help you maintain good posture and save yourself from pain.

Find other great health and wellness stories at Parents.com/Strive.