The Real Risk of Skinny Jeans, According to Science

A new paper pinpoints a previously unknown health risk to wearers of skinny jeans everywhere.

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Jun 22 2015, 9:30am

Image: Screengrab, Conan

We all know that skinny jeans are beautiful, but what's less well-known is that there is danger lying in wait between those slender seams. Yes, a paper just published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry has outlined at least one potential peril found in the most desirable yet dangerous denim.

The paper is titled "Fashion victim: rhabdomyolysis and bilateral peroneal and tibial neuropathies," and the woman who suffered from the affliction ended up being okay, so I don't think it's too horribly insensitive to take a moment to consider whether skinny jeans need to ship with a warning label.

According to the paper, a 35-year-old woman was walking home, presumably looking great in her skinny jeans, after a long day helping a family member move. Then her feet and legs went numb. She tripped, fell, and "spent several hours lying on the ground before she was found," a detail which really takes this paper and medical case from "silly" to "actually pretty horrible sounding." She was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital, where doctors had to cut her skinny jeans off, and put her on an IV.

"Her legs were so swollen and weak that she could only rest in bed for the first couple of days," the study's author, Thomas Kimber, told me via email, "but by the time she left hospital she had improved sufficiently that she could walk unaided."

Doctors at the hospital traced the cause of the numbness—and the falling partially paralyzed to the ground where this poor woman waited for several hours—to the jeans themselves.

Apparently, she was squatting for several hours that day, getting stuff out of cupboards that were low to the ground. The combination of this posture and her slender-legged jeans actually caused nerve damage.

"Prolonged squatting would have compressed one set of nerves in the legs (the peroneal nerves) and reduced the blood supply to the calf muscles," Kimber said. "The tight jeans meant that, as the calf muscles started to swell in response to the reduced blood supply, they compressed another set of nerves (the tibial nerves) and further cut off the blood supply to the muscles."

The solution was all too simple.

"If the woman had been wearing loose trousers, the calf muscles could have swollen 'outwards' rather than 'inwards,' thus avoiding pressure on the nerves and blood vessels," Kimber said.

I asked him if this meant that we needed to purge our closets (although I did not ask him in those exact words), and he told me no, that wasn't necessary—only that people should avoid squatting for long periods of time while wearing skinny jeans.

"If they feel leg discomfort or tingling while doing so, they should stand up and walk around," he said.

That seems straight-forward enough, but there's still one big public health question that remains: where were the good people of Adelaide when this woman was lying on the ground for several hours? Perhaps the hipster-hating town simply won't come to the Adel-aid of anyone who shops at Urban Outfitters.