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Should You Be Worried About Wearing Shapewear?

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From Jessica Alba and Kim Kardashian’s prominent endorsements of “waist-training” corsets to Meb Keflezighi’s memorable display of compression socks when he won the 2014 Boston Marathon, garments that squeeze and cinch are trendier than ever.

But whether you’re after the smoothing effects of Spanx, the supposed weight-loss benefits of a corset, or the believed performance payoffs of compression workout gear, you may want to listen up.

Doctors warn that there are “real health risks to wearing extra-tight clothing for prolonged periods,” according to a new LA Times report. The dangers of too-tight clothing range from meralgia paresthetica, a condition characterized by burning nerve pain in the thighs (most common in pregnant women and people who gain weight quickly), to gastroesophageal reflux disease—a chronic digestive disease caused by pressure on internal organs which pushes acid backwards from the stomach into the esophagus. Other serious health issues like blood clots, back pain, and difficulty breathing are also a possibility. (Be sure to check out more dangers of wearing a corset for weight loss.)

Oh, and to up the ick factor, since women are more likely to avoid the bathroom while donning spandex, there’s also an increased risk for urinary tract infections, as well as an increased risk of yeast infections and skin irritation which can occur from sweating in tight compression gear. 

But doctors aren't saying you need to ditch your favorite compression gear and shapewear all together. The same doctors from the LA Times said most of these problems go away quickly when clothing pressure is off, so there’s no harm in wearing compression garments for short periods of time if they give you a perceived boost. And, hey, if elite athletes like Meb swear by them there must be some payoff, right?!

Well, studies are mixed when it comes to speed, but research suggests that runners who wear compression gear do experience reduced muscle soreness, as well as lower levels of blood lactate (a measure of lactic acid and exercise intensity), which could translate to a speedier recovery. Even if the research is still inconclusive, there's certainly anecdotal evidence. “They increase blood flow, which speeds the rate at which you can rid your body of waste products,” said Tom Holland, a Connecticut-based exercise physiologist and triathlete who regularly wears compression garments.

So, go ahead, wear your favorite spandex or compression workout gear, just be sure to remove immediately post-workout so you don't fall victim to any of these rather unpleasant side effects. And for your own good, just stay away from waist training corsets!

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