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Painful Fashion: When Trendy = Torture

High heels, huge handbags, tight jeans, and decorative contacts may be in style, but they also can take a toll on your body.

Painful Fashion Choice No. 2: Tight Jeans and Undergarments

Fashion mavens may spend hours grazing the racks for the right pair of tight jeans. But these, too, can be a painful fashion choice, along with tight-fitting synthetic underwear, pantyhose, girdles, and body shapers. While tight garments can accentuate curves, they also boost the risk of vaginal yeast infections. Symptoms include pain, itching, burning, and abnormal discharge.

"Yeast, being a fungus, grows where it's warm and moist. If you have clothing that's tight-fitting and won't allow air circulation, that's where the problem is," says Josephine Von Herzen, MD, an obstetrician-gynecologist at Salem Hospital in Salem, Ore., and a spokeswoman for the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Tight garments also cause rubbing and irritation, she adds. "That can be pretty uncomfortable."

What can you do to cut your risk of yeast infections?

  • Avoid tight-fitting undergarments and pants. Find looser pants with a flattering cut.
  • Wear 100% cotton underwear. "Cotton is more absorbent than nylon or polyester," Von Herzen says.
  • Don't sleep in tight-fitting garments, or avoid wearing underwear while sleeping at night.
  • Don't wear pantyhose unless they have a cotton crotch.

Painful Fashion Choice No. 3: High Heels

High heels make the legs look more toned and elongated, but poorly fitted ones are a major cause of female foot problems, says Frey, who is also a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The biggest risk: the bunion, a foot deformity marked by an often painful swelling at the base of the big toe. The big toe can also angle in toward the smaller toes.

"The No. 1 cause of bunions is a tight-fitting pair of shoes, particularly the high-heel shoe with the narrow, pointed toe box," Frey says. "Clearly, the pointed shape crowds the toes together, and over time, your foot will start to take on the shape of the shoe." In general, deformities appear after roughly 10 years of wearing women's fashion shoes, she says. "Some people can get away with it and not have deformities, but actually, the majority of people pay some price."

Aside from bunions, the smaller toes can bend permanently to fit into tight shoes, eventually resulting in hammertoes, Frey says. Pinched nerves, corns and calluses, and ingrown toenails round out the list of the top five women's shoe-related complaints.

While high heels are more likely to cause deformities, "Actual injuries -- broken bones, ankle sprains, ligament tears -- are from platforms, backless shoes, and clogs, usually elevated ones," Frey says. "There's no stability in the back, and what happens is that you hit a crack in the cement and your foot just falls off the platform. You're twisting your ankle and falling from a height."

You don't have to give up high heels entirely, Frey says. "We don't tell people not to wear high-fashion shoe wear. That would be an impossible task, nor would we want anybody to not have fun. But be reasonable. We tell people to treat them like dessert -- do it on occasion, not every day."

Other tips from Frey:

  • "If you're going to be wearing a high-fashion shoe, don't wear them if you're going to be standing or on your feet for more than three hours at a time. Try to limit their use. Kick them off under the dinner table and wiggle your toes. You kind of have to plan."
  • If you must don high heels -- for example, for a business presentation or a special occasion -- bring other shoes to slip into during the rest of the day, such as "flat ones or even ones with just a slightly different heel height," Frey says. "Change the position of your Achilles tendon. That's what it likes. It doesn't want to be in one static position."
  • Pick your shoes carefully. "The shoe should be immediately comfortable the moment you put it on. There is no break-in period."
  • "Buy your shoes at the end of the day, when your feet are the biggest."
  • "Stick to a very buttery, soft leather so that during the day, as your foot swells, the shoe will give."

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