A 15-year-old high school soccer player was recently referred to me because of numbness, tingling, and discomfort in her left thigh that had bothered her for a few weeks. My diagnosis: a compressed nerve in her pelvis. The likely cause: Spanx, clothing typically meant to squeeze middle-aged bodies into trimmer form.
I'd seen the nerve problem before in patients wearing tight pants, like skinny jeans. But it didn't occur to me that a girl so young and fit would wear Spanx. It turns out that her entire team now wears them under their soccer uniforms.
It appears that body slimmers like these are the latest fad to hit the athletic fields. Sold in a rainbow assortment of bright colors, they seem to appeal to teenage girls who play a variety of sports including soccer, lacrosse, and softball. And some young women like my patient, have taken to rolling down the waistline to pull the compressive shorts up so that they show less under their uniforms, unwittingly pressing a tight band of Lycra onto the ideal location for maximum injury. The same kind of damage can also stem from repetitive stretching and contraction of the groin muscles used in exercise, and occasionally from direct trauma, like a soccer ball to the upper thigh. All in all, it makes for a perfect storm for nerve damage.
Fitted, constrictive garments might be responsible for other health problems, including the recurrent abdominal pain my patient also complained of, possibly related to restriction of the bowels, especially after a meal.
I told my patient to ditch the Spanx, and retire her skinny jeans as well. It might take a few months, but I expect the symptoms to fully subside. As for my advice to other young athletes who wear Spanx? Just say "No, thanks."
Read about some other dangerous beauty trends, including teen tattoos, tanning, and permanent makeup, as well as safer beauty options.
Spanx and other body shapers [Consumer Reports ShopSmart]
Are skinny jeans bad for your health? [MSNBC Today Show]