Corsets, Back Pain and Breathing
I wear a Corset at 260 Pounds
I wear a corset. I'm about 260 pounds, at 5'4, and mostly pear-shaped. The corset is an Abdominal Girdle with front suspenders from Shapers. I started wearing it to try to 'flatten' a strange fat deposit that I have near my left ribcage. This deposit occurred after a liposuction procedure I had in 2011. I feel self-conscious about it, since I am about a 40B cup size when it comes to bras, and I feel this little lump is trying to compete with my bra size. I heard that a corset can help with reshaping fat deposits, but part of me feels that this is false. I wear this particular corset because it covers most of my back, which prevents my back fat from being pushed up, as other corsets tend to do. I have read much about the downfalls of wearing corsets, and I'm sure if you're reading this, you've heard much hype about it as well. I wondered - what does SCIENCE have to say when it comes to corsets?
Sommering, Hernia's and Maybe It's Bad for You
In 1793, a book was written by Samuel von Sommerring, and it mentioned that corsets were unhealthy, as they pressed the ribs together, as well as the internal organs, and that this could cause the spine to curve, or scoliosis. While this style was still fashionable, to wear corsets, looser lacing was introduced so the body was allowed to move more. Still, tiny waists were more important than health. In modern times, it has been noticed that 'hiatus hernias' (which are caused by too-tight corsets/girdles) has been called Sommerring’s syndrome, since Sommerring was the first to point out the unhealthy aspects of corsets. A hiatal hernia is where the stomach and a portion of the esophagus slide into the chest cavity through the hiatus. The hiatus is the muscular wall that separates the chest cavity from one's abdomen. A hernia, in general, is when an 'inside' body part moves into a position of another area and it doesn't belong there.
Can Corsets Help Back Pain?
In 2012, the Fukushima Journal of Medical Science mentioned that there were a few beneficial effects from wearing corsets for an extended period of time in patients that suffer from chronic lower back pain. The study set out to look at the 'myoelectric activities of the paravertebral muscles'.
What is myoelectric activity? It's a way to examine the electrical activity of a muscle by using a needle electrode on the skin covering the muscle. Paravertebral muscles are a very large group of muscles that ran down the spine. In this particular study, forty participants that suffered from lower back pain were separated into two groups. One group wore corsets for 6 months, and then another group did not wear corsets. The results were measured using the JOA, or the Japanese Orthopedic Association scoring system. The endurance of the muscle was testing using the Biering-Sorensen test. Muscle fatigue as then calculated by the change in percent mean power frequency of the paravertebral muscles. It appeared that using corset for lower chronic back pain did help the back pain and also did increase the muscle endurance for a short period of time. The study mentioned this as well, “Paravertebral muscle fatigue was not increased by long-term corset wearing for chronic low back pain, and weakening of the paravertebral muscles was not observed up to 6 months after the start of corset wearing."
In 1981, an article was written called "Evaluation of low back pain and assessment of lumbar corsets with and without back supports. It mentioned that corsets helped relieved back pain. Nineteen patients participated. The patients in the study were at least eighteen years old, suffered from back pain for at least six months, and did not respond to other kinds of treatment. The corset used was a wide wrap over body belt that was fastened by a belt. The back of the corset had an area that held a plastic insert that was rigid but moldable. The patients were asked to wear the corset during the day, and also instructions were given on how to bend, lift and care for the back. The corset's effects were studied for four weeks and eight weeks after using the corset. All in all, the group that wore the corsets with support found considerable and significant improvement in their back pain syndromes.
More on Back Pain and Corsets
This last study may or may not be related, but I'm going to add it anyway. It's called the effects on postural control and low back pain according to the types of orthoses in chronic low back pain patients and it was published in 2016. The study aimed to see if lumbosacral orthoses in patients that had lower back pain and in patients with posture issues due to pain had improvement. If you Google "lumbosacral orthoses", you'll notice that they look very much like corsets. For this study, ten persons wrote soft orthoses, and the rest wore rigid ones. Both groups wore these for four weeks. Pain and posture were measured the first day, and on the fourth week. The study's findings mentioned this: "Lumbosacral orthoses for patients with low back pain can decrease low back pain and help to improve balance ability by stabilizing the lumbosacral area10, 11). Redford et al.15) reported that lumbosacral orthoses used a lot by patients with low back pain can mitigate pain by limiting movement of the trunk and decreasing the load on the waist by transmitting forces applied to intervertebral discs to soft tissue surrounding the abdomen."
The Effects of Waist Trainers on Breathing
There was a study done that was curious to see how corsets affect breathing. This is because corsets usually sit on the body in a way that may affect the diaphragm. In this study, ten women were used. Before the study, those who participated had to do a series of breathing techniques without the waist trainer. They had to repeat these exercises while wearing the waist trainer as well. The pulmonary function as examined using the forced vital capacity, slow vital capacity and also the maximum voluntary ventilation tests. The bedside pulmonary function test was analyzed as well. The study showed that there was no change, or almost no change, while wearing a corset or waist trainer. The number that was affected the most, but not by a large margin, was the maximum voluntary ventilation test. It is important to note that those involved in the study did show signs of shortness of breath, sweat, and pain while they had the waist trainer on, even though the test showed little to no change in breathing. Another study from 2010 that closely resembled this one was in the European Reparatory Journal and called the Relation between corset use and lung function postural variation in spinal cord injury.
Can Corsets Cause Back Muscle Weakness?
I found the following information in this study: "A non-randomized clinical trial to assess the impact of non-rigid, inelastic corsets on spine function in low back pain participants and asymptomatic controls". It read this in the conclusion: "A recent survey (Alberta, Canada), showed that approximately 50% of clinicians believed that non-rigid back braces cause muscle atrophy." A 2017 study mentioned this: "Lumbosacral orthosis was found to have no effect on muscle strength in some studies, whereas other studies demonstrated increased muscle strength.” In this same text, it mentioned that some abdominal muscles may have had some reduced thickness. Core exercises are extremely important when waist training, as they cause a reduction of pain and also a reduction on muscle weakness in the lower back area as well. A 2017 study showed this to be true.
My Personal Thoughts on Corsets and Health
It appears that modern day doctors have a concern about waist trainers: They may cause permanent nerve damage and organ damage as well. They also believe that it may create more of a problem when it comes to heartburn and indigestion. While a waist trainer may boost one's confidence, it's quite uncomfortable. However, perhaps worn for a limited amount of time, lower back pain can be improved, as well as posture. I worked two shifts, standing, and on one shift I wore a corset, on another shift, I did not wear a corset. On the standing shift where I wore a corset, I had considerable back pain at the end of the day. Wearing the corset, I had no back pain. It was rather uncomfortable, however.
© 2019 Charlotte Doyle