Living With Chronic Pain

When Accessories Hurt

We often work hard to keep the foods we eat healthy, exercise daily, get a good night’s sleep and consciously think about how we lift, pull, and push- but we rarely think about how fashion choices affect pain. Last week we discussed how clothes can make a huge difference in how we feel throughout the day. Now let’s talk about how an accessory can impact it as well.

Jewelry can add a wonderful pop to any look. But it can also add additional pain.

I love statement necklaces, my grandmother left me a couple of her gorgeous squash blossom necklaces. These are huge, solid silver and turquoise necklaces that cover the chest. As stunning an accent as they can be to any look, when too bulky or heavy they exacerbate my pain by adding an incredible burden to my neck and shoulders. Now they are proudly displayed as the wonderful art prices they are, but anything I put on my neck has to be light and easy to wear. Even then it might not last the entire day.

Bracelets can also cause pain if they are too heavy, bulky or so large they flip around with movement . That’s why I prefer stretchy ones that I can stack for a great look without the weight.

Even rings can add weight and constrict normal movement. When you’re on the computer all day long the stress on the joints can add up. 


I have no idea who designs jewelry, but I’d like to give them a piece of advice. Stop making necklace clasps- which we attach behind our necks, while holding both ends in awkward positions- impossible to see, let alone attach! Why?! They could be a half inch big and no one would be the wiser. But our hands and neck will know. Instead of wrangling with them change out the ring for a larger size or add a magnetic closure so it’s simple and quick to put on and take off.

And don’t get me started on bracelets! Contorting into positions that allow for us to attach both ends while they are on a wrist can be impossible. Particularly if you’re using your non-dominate hand. For a few dollars, utilize a bracelet helper. It will allow easy on and off access without the pain or worry it’s not properly attached.

Glasses. Whether for sun protection or vision correction, glasses can make quite a fashion statement. They can also hurt when too tight on the nose, and cause pressure when sitting behind the ears or slip and slide all day. Get them properly adjusted and then don’t pull them onto your head between use, this will just pull them out of alignment and create issues later.

belt can define your waist and give that hour glass appearance, hold up pants or make a fashion statement. But too tight they can change the tilt of the pelvis and cause nerve/ spine compression, digestive problems, circulation issues and even interfere with the immune system by preventing adequate lymph system drainage. Make it looser or for women, try angling it lower for a different look.

Scarves. A wonderful, light weight alternative to heavy, cumbersome jewelry accents, toppers and belts that still look stylish and add a pop of color. Just don’t tie too tight. 

Hats. Nothing can make a statement quite like a hat. It can protect our skin and eyes from sun exposure and keep us warm in the winter by covering our ears and preventing 5-10% of our bodies heat from leaking out.  They are also great for covering up bad hair days. For decades it was a routine accessory both men and women enjoyed. But when too tight they cause pressure across the forehead and scalp as well as irritate hair follicles. Even though hair doesn’t have nerves, the follicles and scalp do. Constant pulling on the hair triggers them. Big, bulky hats add to the weight your neck feels and is significantly exacerbated by flexion.

Ties. In one study, researchers found a tight tie caused modest changes in cerebrovascular reactivity in healthy males as it related to the ability of arteries to dilate in the brain – a marker for strokes. They theorized it could potentially affect the risk of a stroke in those who already have underlying risk factors. Another study found tie wearers received 7.5% less cerebral blood flow. This can also lead to elevated intraocular pressures that increases the risk for glaucoma and cataracts. They also restrict neck movement causing headaches, neck and upper back pain. Can’t ditch the tie in your profession? Try making it a slight bit looser. Only you will notice the difference.

Purses. A necessity we never really think may be causing terrible pain and even damage. Every time we throw them onto our shoulders all the weight hits the hand and specifically the thumb for a few seconds. Over time it can lead to pain and arthritis. Next time, use your opposite hand to guide the purse onto your arm. But even the persistent weight on our shoulders and neck is a constant burden for those of us suffering from chronic pain. And the larger bags look stunning but increase the amount we carry and ultimately the overall weight significantly. For many it’s like carrying a ten pound bowling ball around all day. 

Do you really need all that stuff? I finally got to the point where I stopped carrying a wallet and just took money and a couple of cards wherever I went. That water bottle adds at least a pound. I changed it to a small travel bottle for emergency medication needs. Every ounce matters, and I found made a huge difference in how I felt by the end of the day.

Better yet, stop wearing shoulder bags altogether. They hurt the thumb, shoulder and neck but also cause an imbalance. One side takes all the weight and the normal flow of arm and leg movements as we walk is disrupted, causing a misalignment in the spine. The better solution is a backpack if it isn’t packed to the max, causing us to hunch under the weight. Even better, switch to a small purse or at the very least alternate the side you carry it on.

Put it down. Whenever possible take a load off and put your purse down. Can’t find a good place? Use a purse hook. It will allow you to hang it from any table or ledge and still keep your valuables close.

Briefcases. Pick one with wide shoulder straps that adjust so ideally it can be worn as a cross body bag to evenly distribute the weight across the torso. Put all necessary items e.g. phone, appointment book, and pen, that you’ll use regularly throughout the day in the front pockets so you don’t have to reach or twist to retrieve.

Wallets. More and more men carry their wallets and ID in their back pockets. But this too can cause pain. Sitting on them for hours at a time creates a pocket in the underlying muscles and forces an asymmetrical impact on one side versus the other causing changes in how you sit, stand and walk throughout the day.

Phones. It may feel like we can’t live without them but for many the pain they cause is constant. Looking down to constantly input or read data creates significant stress on the neck and thumbs leading to “text neck”, arthritis or a trigger finger. Think of the head as a bowling ball weighing about 12 pounds, sitting on top of our cervical spines. But every degree we bend forward the weight on the cervical spine increases significantly. At 15 degrees it’s 27 pounds, by 30 degrees it’s 49 pounds and at 45 degrees it’s 49 pounds-and in normal smartphone flexion- 60 degrees- it’s a whopping 60 pounds of excess weight on our necks!  

And phones keep increasing in size and weight yearly. They’ve become a huge albatross we carry daily. Take a break every twenty minutes, sit when possible and hold your phone up to eye level. When not obtrusive, put phone calls on speaker so you’re not scrunching your head and neck to hear the calls. Don’t walk and text. It only takes a second to trip or run into an unseen item. Do one or the other, not both at the same time.

Shoes, shoes, shoes! Shoes have a huge impact on how we walk, stand and even sit, which ultimately impacts our pain. Ditch those stiletto high heels, backless mules and flip flops for shoes that still look great but don’t cause imbalance and harm.

Replace laces with elastic ties. That way you don’t have to worry about tying them when in pain. Add a shoehorn to your regimen. A long handled one keeps you from having to bend over to get them on. 

Accessories are a fun and exciting way to change up our look. Just remember how they can impact our pain as well. Pick items that do what you want without adding weight, bulk or impacting dexterity and function. It can still look amazing.

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