Living With Chronic Pain

When Fashion Hurts

We all love to look good. 

And I’m all for enjoying and changing up our look depending on how we feel or what we want to present to the world. But when it comes to chronic pain, picking items that boost our mood and not our pain is imperative. 

Here are a few ways to insure your fashionable outfits aren’t causing pain:

Don’t wear tight or restrictive clothing

Skinny jeans may look great and feel like they’re acting as a corset, not only holding you in but giving support as well to your abdomen an back. But it’s actually the opposite. Those wonderful tight pants prevent certain movements and restrict our natural flow in the hips, knees and thighs. This then changes the way we sit, stand and walk. If too constricting at the waist or hips they can also impact the lateral femoral cutaneous nerves causing a tingling sensation and pain in the thighs called meralgia parasthetica. In other cases too tight jeans can impact circulation causing issues in the lower extremities.

Shapewear can actually help support the lower back and engage the core abdominal muscles. But only if they fit properly. When downsized to appear smaller they become restrictive and then, like skinny jeans, can impact nerves, restrict blood flow and cause loss of normal motion in the abdomen and pelvic muscles which then stresses the lower back.

pencil skirt is a woman’s go to professional look. But that gorgeous waist cinching, hip skimming item forces the knees together and restricts movement, straining the back.

halter top looks cute but the straps pull the neck forward and out of alignment. Especially for larger breasted women. Add a strapless bra for improved support.

Button up shirts. Many men still have to button up shirts to their necks causing restriction in movement and even blood flow to the brain and eyes leading to increased risk of stroke, glaucoma, cataracts, headaches, and neck pain. Go up one size to keep it looser, or have your shirts tailored to best fit your body.

Leggings might seem like a great option to hold in all the right places but like old fashioned panty hose it’s the last thing our bodies need for hours on end. Thigh-high clothing puts incredible pressure on your hips, buttocks and abdomen throughout the day. And it only worsens with sitting.

Heavy hoods on sweatshirts and coats also add unneeded weight to the neck, chest and upper arms. They force our cervical spines to move forward and create difficulty in looking side to side. If possible get ones that can be removed when desired.

Socks matter. Where they sit can hit trigger points in the same way as a too tight waist band. Are anklets better for your needs? They keep the feet warm without putting pressure behind the knees and on the calves. For others the warmth and support of knee highs are better. If the pressure is too much find ones that have a thinner fabric.

Change up the fabric. Soft, stretchy fabrics can make it easier to get on an off and give when moving. Switch to cotton, silk, satin, viscose, rayon, fleece and jersey materials. Trim all tags and loose edges that can irritate skin.

Use layers. Wearing coats and heavy sweaters all day long can be painful. Layers are a great way to add warmth but can also be easily added or removed when indoors. Start with a lightweight tee shirt and add a shrug for when a little coverage is called for and a heavier sweater over those when more is required. These will take you anywhere regardless no matter how much the temperature fluctuates. 


How tight is too tight?

  • when marks are left on your skin 
  • when you can’t sit or bend easily
  • you feel numbness or tingling
  • breathing is restricted 
  • blisters, rash or skin irritations occur 

Switch to an elastic or drawstring waistband and the pants will stretch and be able to give when needed. Try the boyfriend look. These jeans have a wider lower leg so they don’t cut off the thighs and calves the way skinny jeans do. 


Don’t forget what’s underneath

The right bra can make a significant difference in how you feel throughout the day. No matter your size, support is imperative. For large breasted women it’s imperative. If the weight of our breasts isn’t distributed properly throughout the chest they cause the cervical and thoracic spine to flex. Every degree increases the pressure and ultimate pain in those regions. If an underwire causes too much pressure and pain there are many supportive alternatives that won’t hurt.

  • Soft cup. No matter your size they can give ample support. And don’t forget to widen the straps so they don’t dig into your shoulders.
  • Sports bras are are terrific way to add support but stay comfortable.
  • Bralettes or bandeau for smaller figures add coverage without the discomfort and bulk.

Underwear has a huge impact as well.

  • Thongs may look sexy but they aren’t always comfortable.
  • Bikinis can hit at the hip, cutting off circulation and causing the muffin-top look.
  • Boy shorts that extend onto the thigh can prevent pant lines but if too tight cause issues in the legs.
  • Classic, high waist can answer all your needs. They may be dated but when they fit correctly they won’t create pain and they’ll look great under any outfit.
  • The same holds true for men. From briefs to boxers make sure they aren’t too snug and they fit properly.
  • Depending on the fabric they can restrict airflow setting up situations that can lead to rashes and infections.

Trouble getting dressed? 

Buttons, zippers and shoes can be problematic for painful, arthritic hands. Try these options to help:

  • Waistbands that don’t have to be buttoned or zipped.
  • Zipper pulls to aid in getting them up and down. Or add a 6 inch chain to that particularly difficult dress or top. That way it’s always available but can be tucked inside when worn.
  • Button hooks to help pull buttons through openings.
  • Don’t wear clothes that button on the back.
  • Change out fasteners for Velcro 
  • Use stretch laces to prevent having to tie and untie shoes
  • Get a long handled shoehorn to keep from bending over every time you need to put on shoes.

When it comes to pain, every little thing can aggravate it. Add them all together and it can become debilitating. Just a small tweak to your wardrobe or how you get dressed tomorrow may make all the difference in how you end your day tomorrow night. 

Next week I’ll talk about how accessories can affect our pain.


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