Are Waist Trainers Safe to Use? We Asked Physicians | kzfbfkttn.com

Are Waist Trainers Safe to Use? We Asked Physicians

Waist trainers are essentially modern corsets worn beneath clothing, and are attended to “train” the body into an hourglass figure. With countless celeb endorsements—the Kardashians largely credited with being at the helm—the rise of waist trainers and other tools designed to contract the female form seem to be unstoppable.

But regardless of the popularity, do waist trainers actually work? And if they do, are they safe? To get to the bottom of the waist-training phenomenon, if they work, and what the short- and long-term side effects are, we reached out to several medical and fitness experts. Ahead, their in-depth answers regarding waist trainers and whether they really work.

MEET THE EXPERT

  • Jesse P. Houghton, MD, is the Senior Medical Director of Gastroenterology at Southern Ohio Medical Center.
  • Rachel Sparks is a chiropractor at ICT Muscle & Joint Clinic in Wichita, Kansas.
  • Shani Fried is a pelvic floor physical therapist based in Brooklyn, New York.
  • Nicolle Harwood-Nash is a strength and fitness coach.

Are Waist Trainers Safe?

A waist trainer—an elastic compression band worn around the midriff—counts the corset as a distant relative. Most of the time waist trainers are made from thick elastic fabric with laces, velcro, or hooks to keep it strapped around your midsection, and they’re intended to be worn for long periods of time to mold your body into an “hourglass” shape.

Other than physically “training” the body into a more desirable shape, brands and paid endorsers will tout the waist trainer for a range of benefits such as improved posture, a strengthened core, and even supportive for postpartum bodies. But there is little evidence to support such claims, and conversely, a growing mountain of evidence suggests waist trainers can actually be harmful. Thus, waist trainers aren’t considered safe, and aren’t recommended by experts.

The Dangers of Waist Trainers

Results Aren’t Long-Lasting

The idea behind waist training is that, by wearing a steel-boned corset, fat pockets along the waist and floating ribs (the two lowest ribs that aren’t connected to the breastbone) will be molded into a trimmer hourglass figure. The truth is, this hourglass figure won’t stick around. A study published in the American Board of Cosmetic Surgery (ABCS) states that waist training won’t make any drastic changes to your body shape and any hourglass figure formed will be short-lived.1

Possible Consequences to Spinal Health

One of the purported benefits of a waist trainer is that it keeps your midsection tight, and your back upright and that, therefore, your posture is corrected. Sparks explains, “Your spine is made of several units known as vertebrae. These are individual so that they can help you move in different ranges of motion. If you think about the middle part of your spine, it is attached to your rib cage so it doesn’t move as freely.”

In trying to compensate, you might injure yourself in other areas. A compressed diaphragm might send a signal to accessory muscles to compensate. “Smaller accessory muscles located near your neck will kick in [to help the diaphragm breathe],” says Sparks. “These small muscles are not meant to move your ribcage thousands of times per day; they will eventually wear out leading to neck pain, headaches, and jaw pain.

Weakens Your core

The idea behind a waist trainer is that it forces your body to work—your posture is better and your abs are tighter, proponents claim, because the body is required to work harder while it’s on. But the opposite is actually true. “People wear a waist trainer to look slimmer because they think it’s going to bring the abs together,” says Shani Fried, a pelvic floor physical therapist. “But it’s a passive movement, so you’re doing the opposite. It actually turns off the ab muscles.”

Chiropractor Rachel Sparks adds, “The more often you wear a waist trainer, the more it is going to be a source of support for your body as opposed to challenging your muscles to keep you upright.” The compression signals the back and core muscles to deactivate, which is a disaster for abdominal muscles you’ve worked hard to engage.   

Promotes Unhealthy Habits

Waist trainers might also promote a “crash-diet” approach to fitness, which is not only superficial but harmful to overall wellness. Some women report “feeling full all the time” when they wear waist trainers, says strength and fitness coach Nicolle Harwood-Nash of The Workout Digest. “In a way, you’re committing to a fake form of diet. This isn’t a good alternative to eating a healthy diet.”

Can Restrict Air Flow

Waist trainers can prevent the diaphragm from doing its job, which can have serious implications for your wellness in addition to your fitness routine. “When worn, a waist trainer covers the two bottom ribs and will be pulled up high so it gives the illusion of an hourglass shape,” says Harwood-Nash. “The constriction in the rib cage makes it difficult for anyone using it to breathe properly.”

Sparks agrees, explaining that compressing the diaphragm inhibits its function. “The main muscle meant for breathing is your diaphragm,” she says. “But for your diaphragm to work properly, your abdomen needs to expand to accommodate its contraction. Wearing a waist trainer severely, if not completely, disallows this to happen.” 

Jesse P. Houghton, MD, senior medical director of Gastroenterology at Southern Ohio Medical Center concurs. “Tight compression from a waist trainer can inhibit the diaphragm from being able to fully contract and relax, thus inhibiting the full expansion of the lungs.”

Possibly Puts Pressure on Internal Organs

Sparks points out that a large requirement of organ function is their ability to move. “We all can wrap our heads around spinal movement,” she says, “but did you know your organs are meant to move as well?” Applying unnecessary compression to internal organs might be aggravating, causing them undue stress.

What exactly are the long-term effects of such aforementioned stress? Houghton says that sadly, we just don’t have all the data. “I am not aware of any actual high-quality studies on waist trainers,” he says. He does maintain that there’s no real danger of a waist trainer causing organs to move around or sustain injury. “Any possible shifting of one’s internal organs would likely take years of constant wearing to occur,” he says. In short, compressing the abdominal area is likely not enough to actually fully compress the organs themselves.

This is not to say that the pressure applied to internal organs is without consequence. The consequences are mostly muscular, however. The combination of prolonged compression and restricted range of motion results in muscles in the back and core (the one’s that would typically be used to support the areas being compressed) falling to disuse as the body becomes accustomed and, eventually, dependent on the waist trainer for physically supporting the body. In other words: If you don’t use it, you lose it.

Digestive Issues

Long-term use of a waist trainer might lead to digestive issues. “Wearing a waist trainer for any length of time can certainly cause GERD (acid reflux) to occur,” says Houghton. “This is due to compression of the stomach and thus upward pressure on stomach contents, causing reflux into the esophagus.”

Waist Trainers Might Aggravate Prolapse in Postpartum Women

Some women bind their midsections with wraps postpartum in the hopes of flattening the stomach after pregnancy. Postpartum women might seek out a waist trainer after a baby when Fried says the pelvic floor muscles are especially weak. It’s tempting, postpartum, to reach for a waist trainer, especially if your abdominal muscles experienced trauma during pregnancy and childbirth.

Byrdie Tip

Fried says you’ll get more effective results from engaging in slow, gentle, rehabilitating strengthening exercises you practice over time. “We’ll flatten the stomach this way, by re-activating the core.”

However, many postpartum women might feel too overwhelmed with a newborn to commit to a new exercise routine and instead seek the purported “easy-fix” wearing a waist trainer has to offer. This is where things get really complicated and potentially dangerous. 

“There’s a lot of things going on in your abdominal cavity postpartum,” says Fried. During pregnancy, organs—including the bladder, intestines, and stomach—can shift as the uterus expands. Although your uterus contracts within about six weeks postpartum, you might be at risk for prolapse, a condition where the bladder, uterus, or rectum can start to descend. Wearing a waist trainer might aggravate this condition. 

“It’s not going to move any organs,” Fried explains, “but it can give pressure downward.” She advises postpartum women get checked by their OB/GYN to make sure they’re not at risk for developing a prolapse. “Chances of prolapse increase after having a baby and with age. If you are intent on wearing a waist trainer, get checked and keep getting checked.”

Waist Trainers vs. Shapewear

Shapewear is possibly the most modern—and most comfortable—iteration of the original intentions of corsetry. While it makes no claims of permanently changing the body shape, shapewear undergarments use compression materials to skim the body’s contours to smooth and support the figure. Designed in a variety of shapes to suit a wide range of needs, these garments are created with breathable, lightweight fabrics that are meant to be worn undetected beneath clothing. Their role, like any undergarment, is simply as a foundational piece to an outfit and are often not particularly restrictive. Unlike waist trainers, they don’t claim any additional benefits if worn for prolonged periods of time.

Alternatives to Waist Trainers

Admittedly, targeting the waistline with diet and exercise is difficult, especially if you desire an hourglass shape but, as we’ve learned many times over, easy-fixes can’t replicate the same results. For a chiseled midsection, pilates-based oblique movements like twists or teasers can help create a tighter, trimmer core. Other exercises that work the obliques include side bends. “Side bends provide a fantastic workout for your waist as they effectively target the sides of your core,” adds Harwood-Nash. 

If you are intent on garnering extra support from wearable fitness to shape your waistline, consider exercise suits that incorporate electro currents into your workout as an alternative to waist trainers. Instead of physically cinching the waist into submission via constriction, these suits employ electrical current technology to induce contraction throughout the targeted muscles. This is similar to what happens within the muscles through repeated strength exercises. In other words, you’re getting the contraction without the compression. 

The Final Takeaway

The risks of waist trainers far outweigh any possible benefits. It simply isn’t worth it to risk you health and mobility for a smaller waist. Experts agree that long-term changes are far more likely to occur from changes to diet and exercise, and shapewear is largely considered a safe alternative for a temporary, cosmetic effect.

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