On Tuesday, a medical journal published a single case study of a 35-year-old Australian woman who experienced severe weakness in her lower legs and had to be hospitalized after squatting for much of the day in a pair of skinny jeans.
Suddenly, media headlines around the world were breathlessly declaring skinny jeans to be a health hazard.
The problem with these headlines is that they focus on the jeans and not on the squatting. For as the experts who reviewed the study for the U.K.’s National Health Service explain, if there is any lesson to be learned from this unfortunate woman’s story, it’s that most people should avoid squatting for long stretches of time.
Here’s how the NHS reviewers wisely (and calmly) interpreted the case report:
A woman in Australia who, after squatting for a long time while wearing skinny jeans, had severe ankle weakness. She fell over and could not get back up by herself, and ended up having her jeans cut off and staying in hospital for four days until she recovered.
It is thought that she developed a condition called compartment syndrome, where pressure in an enclosed bundle of muscles can adversely affect muscle and nerve function. This can sometimes occur, for example, as a result of a crush injury, or in people who are wearing a plastic cast, which constricts swelling tissue.
Given the fact that many people wear skinny jeans and this is the first report of this kind of severe problem, it is likely to be a rare occurrence. If you know you’re going to be squatting for long periods, even if it’s just for your comfort and the safety of your jeans, commonsense dictates that it’s probably better to wear looser trousers. Also make sure you take regular breaks to stretch your legs.
The NHS reviewers wonder if at least some of the media coverage of the story was due to the fact that it provided an excuse to post a photo of an attractive celebrity in skinny jeans.
“Call us cynical,” they write, “but we doubt a case report involving anoraks or thermal underwear would generate the same level of coverage.”
They’re probably right.
I happen to enjoy reading case studies in medical journals, and I occasionally write about them here, primarily because such cases tend to be interesting and quirky. And sometimes they have a broader health message. But it’s always important to remember that a single case is just that — a story of one person’s experience.
So go ahead. Wear those skinny jeans today. And if they’re a bit tight? Well, the only harm you’re likely to experience will be to your ego.
The case report was published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, where it can be read in full.