Tight Pants & Back Pain

Restrictive clothing can effect motion and muscle activity, increasing back pain.

In a study published in Applied Ergonomics. 2013 Apr 30, the authors found a correlation between tight pants and back pain. They studied the fffects of restrictive clothing on lumbar range of motion and trunk muscle activity in young adult worker manual material handling.

Back pain is one of major health problems in today’s modern society. There are many causes of lower back pain including sustained and static loading of the spine as when sitting at a computer for long periods, repetitive spinal movements common in some working conditions, vibratory forces on the back structures like driving and in truckers who drive for long periods, as well as limited hip range of motion due to muscle problems or degenerative changes. Altered motion patterns of the hips and spine may be a potential factor contributing to the development of back pain.

Tight pants, especially sizes smaller than fit body size, are a popular clothing choice for young people. Unfortunately, tight pants may restrict hip motion and alter back movement and muscle activity while at work and at leisure. Hip movements are related to low back movements and there is reduced mobility of the hip associated with and increase in back flexion (bending forward) and extension (bending back).

The objective of this study was to examine the effect of wearing tight, restrictive pants on back movement, muscle activity and discomfort in simulations of working tasks. Twenty-eight young adults participated in the study performing box lifting, liquid container handling while squatting, and forward reaching while sitting on a task chair when wearing tight pants (sizes too small for the wearer) vs. fit pants (correct size according to body measurement). Each of the tasks were repeated three times and video recordings were used as a basis for measuring back motion and the participants rated low back pain at the end of the task.

Results Of Wearing Tight Pants On Back Pain

The results indicated significant effects of both pants and type of task on the back motion, muscle activity and ratings of low back pain. Motion was higher and muscle activity (erector spinae) were lower for participants when wearing tight pants compared to correctly fitted pants. Discomfort or pain ratings were significantly higher for tight pants than fit ones.

Alteration of motion patterns of the lowe back and hip may be a possible factor contributing to the occurrence of back pain. Changes in spine and hip mobility may alter bending stresses on the spine and alter loads on joints and ligaments, leading to pain. The results on pain ratings of low back indicated that tight pants increased the feeling of discomfort, as compared to fit pants. The experience of pain might also be due to restriction in hip mobility with the tight pants during the tasks performed, leading to overloading of structures, such as the discs and ligaments.

Regarding the type of task performed, results of the study showed pain ratings during squatting to be higher than box lifting and reaching. This finding may be explained by the body position in each task. During interviews after the experiment, participants commenteded that the squatting posture required the greatest hip bending, more so than box lifting and forward reaching. They also said they perceived the tight pants to restrict the hip movement most in the squatting posture, although the motion response in the study showed box lifting to be more restrictive, leading to a greater sense of pain than in the other tasks.

A Solution for Tight Pants Causing Back Pain?The findings of this study revealed hip range of motion measurement was significantly restricted in mobility when the subjects wore tight pants. This restriction in motion may have contributed to compensation in the motion of the low back and pelvic region. Movements of the back appeared to occur more frequently and with greater range of motion during the experimental tasks which required hip flexion.

The results of this study provide guidance for recommendations on work clothing fit during specific types of work activities in order to reduce the potential of back pain among younger workers in industrial companies. It also provides an indication that tight pants, in general, are not good for the back. Looser pants are better – how loose? Well, it seems some younger people have come up with a solution that may be going too much the other way!

The authors of this interesting study recommend that companies which do not provide uniforms for their employees should provide information on the potential for low back pain associated with wearing tight pants and recommend fit or comfortable personal protective work clothing be worn during manual material handling tasks.