Are Tight Leggings Bad For Your Pelvic Floor? We Asked a Physical Therapist

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There’s something so superhero about a high-waisted pair of skin-tight leggings. Your entire lower body is wrapped up tight — sometimes all the way up to your rib cage — making you feel secure and ready to take on the day. Even if you don’t plan on leaving the house, those compression leggings can give you the confidence to take on that spin class, try Pilates for the first time, or maybe just change out of your usual sweats. But if you spend the majority of your days in leggings, it’s worth knowing how they affect you on a physiological level. It might seem silly to ask, but can tight leggings cause damage? According to experts, it’s something more people should probably be asking.

While we know that waist trainers and corsets are bad news for your body, leggings are a bit more ambiguous. Still, you might’ve started to worry after removing a skin-tight pair and seeing your body physically expand, or seeing the red marks left behind. Turns out, wearing tight, high-waisted pants can indeed have an impact on your health — especially when it comes to your core and pelvic floor, a group of muscles and ligaments that support everything in your pelvis.

To offer more clarity, we asked an expert what your favorite leggings might be doing to your body, and whether or not you should consider giving them up (or at least slipping into something a bit looser for your next Netflix marathon). Read on to see what they had to say.

Experts Featured in This Article:

Hayley Kava, PT, is a pelvic-floor physical therapist.

The Impact on Your Breathing, Core, and Pelvic Floor

Let’s start with a little anatomy. “When we inhale, our diaphragm — the muscle at the bottom of the lungs — moves down to draw air into our lungs,” says Hayley Kava, PT, a pelvic-floor therapist. This increases pressure in the abdominal cavity (the large cavity in your torso that houses many of your organs). Ideally, your abs and pelvic floor should lengthen when you inhale in order to regulate this pressure, Kava explains. “When we wear really tight, high-waisted leggings that prevent us from allowing our abdominals to lengthen properly with an inhale, we can develop a ‘reversed’ breathing pattern,” she says.

In a reversed breathing pattern, we start keeping our belly button drawn in when we inhale — or all the time — which can keep our pelvic floor muscles “tense,” Kava explains. In other words, you begin to tighten, rather than lengthen, your abs and pelvic floor as you breathe in, then release as you exhale. This quick test can clue you into whether this might be an issue for you. Without thinking too much, take a breath. If your stomach draws in instead of pushing out, you’re breathing in a reversed pattern.

All this might sound like NBD, but “over time, this can contribute to a number of different changes in our posture, core, and pelvic floor,” Kava says. The diaphragm is “the main connector of our upper and lower body, and so this increased pressure can both impact function up or down the chain.”

That could manifest as or contribute to pelvic-floor tension, urinary leakage, urinary urgency (i.e. not being able to wait to pee), constipation, painful intercourse, pelvic heaviness/pressure, or even things like lower-back pain, hip pain, upper-back, or even neck pain, she says.

Wearing super-tight pants and breathing in a reversed pattern can also lead to more “upper chest” breathing, which is when you breathe through your neck, shoulders, and back, which increases tension in all these areas, Kava explains. “We breathe over 20,000 times per day. If most of our day is spent breathing in this reversed pattern due to our pants preventing proper core and pelvic-floor motion, it can certainly carry over into other aspects of our lives.”

Before You Ditch Leggings Forever . . .

None of that sounds great, right? But like many things in life, moderation is key here, and there’s still a time and place for your favorite tight leggings. Issues mainly occur if you’re wearing them day in and day out. “I think it may actually have a less cumulative impact if you are only wearing them for workouts and are being more conscious of form despite pant tightness,” Kava says. “I actually don’t mind a bit of even compression on a higher-waisted tight. Sometimes it can help you sense your breath and pelvic floor (especially if newly postpartum).” This means a tight pair of leggings might actually help you be more aware of your core and your breath during a workout, potentially improving your form.

That said, you may want to consider more relaxed pants for lounging, working from home, traveling, or wearing while you’re on your feet all day. And if you’re wondering whether a certain pair of pants you own is too tight, try this assessment from Kava:

  1. Sit, stand, or lie down with your hands on your lower lateral (outside) ribs with fingers extending onto your abdomen.
  2. Take a few breaths.
  3. If you can inhale and “feel your ribs and abdomen rise, and the tights move with you and don’t dig in, then you’re in the clear,” she says. “If they’re leaving marks, prevent you from being able to feel this movement with your breath, or you’re tempted to draw your belly in with your inhale, they’re too tight.”

Both personally and as a recommendation for clients, Kava says she prefers leggings without a seam at the top of the waist. “If it can provide this nice light compression without the breath-interrupting squeeze, it’s a winner for me,” she says.

Rest assured that if you still need or want to wear tight leggings, “it may not be the end of the world for an hour or so,” Kava says. But it may be helpful to do some restorative breathwork afterwards to give your core, diaphragm, and pelvic floor a good reset, she tells PS. — Additional reporting by Chandler Plante

Lauren Mazzo was the senior fitness editor at PS. She is a certified personal trainer and fitness nutrition specialist through the American Council on Exercise. Prior to joining PS, she worked for six years as a writer and editor for Shape Magazine covering health, fitness, nutrition, mental health, sex and relationships, beauty, and astrology.

Chandler Plante is an assistant editor for PS Health & Fitness. Previously, she worked as an editorial assistant for People magazine and contributed to Ladygunn, Millie, and Bustle Digital Group. In her free time, she overshares on the internet, creating content about chronic illness, beauty, and disability.

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