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Corsets and Bones

This entry is a summary of the video “Corsets and your Bones” which you can watch here:

Corsets and the Spine

The first and most important thing I should say is that a good corset should not affect the position of the spine. A study done by Dr. Robert Dickinson in 1910 shows how some corset styles can cause forward-leaning posture, backward-leaning posture, stoop (slouching) and other unnatural postures which can later cause other skeletal issues by overcompensation of the muscles that help you balance.  The S-curve or Edwardian corsets used during the time of this study were built to have a flat front and a fairly curved lumbar area, forcing the wearer into a forward-leaning posture where her bust would be thrust forward and her bottom would be tilted back. This posture would eventually give the wearer swayback (lumbar lordosis), actually affecting the permanent curvature of the spine. For this reason I never wear traditional Edwardian style corsets and I do not recommend anyone waist train in these corsets. If you love the look and feel of Edwardian corsets, I would suggest wearing them only occasionally.

For Victorian style corsets, modern corsets and “Edwardian inspired” corsets made today, the wearer’s spine is usually should not be affected. If you find your corset is causing you to arch your back unnaturally in any direction, it is not well-made for your body. This is one of the important reasons for having personal fittings and mockups when having a custom corset made; not only to be sure that your corset is shaped beautifully but also to ensure that your spinal curvature is not being manipulated into an unnatural shape.

Corsets and the Ribcage

Most people have 24 ribs (12 pairs) in their body – in some rare cases an individual may have more or fewer (the same way some individuals may have more than 32 teeth or less than 28). The ribs start right under the clavicle (collarbone) and end around or right above your waist.

The typical corset does not come up to the shoulders so wearing a corset will never affect all your ribs. The ribs that are most affected are the last 2 pairs. These are the floating ribs which don’t extend up to the breastbone/sternum. On these ribs, you will find cartilage where the rib joins to the spine so when you breathe in and out, those ribs easily expand and contract too. Thus, when you compress these ribs in a corset, you are actually compressing them at the area of the joint instead of putting pressure on the curvature of the bone itself. For this reason, one can compress the floating ribs 1-2 inches easily without fear of them breaking or cracking (assuming that the individual is in good health and doesn’t suffer from brittle bone disorders). The floating ribs are thought to be unessential; they don’t bear any weight and are too small to protect much of your soft tissue – they’re often removed if a little extra bone is needed in reconstructive surgery for a small area like in the face.

 Bones are Living Tissues

Many people have the misconception that a bone is a solid, static, rock-like structure that should never move. However, this is not true at all. While bones seem solid, they are actually in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Inside every bone are strong scaffolds of fibers and the cells that control the density and strength of the bone:
Osteoblasts – the cells that build bone
Osteoclasts – the cells that break down bone

These two types of cells are always in balance in a healthy individual.  That’s why a broken bone will heal, and they will also move over time when you put gentle, consistent stress on them; thus it’s possible to reshape the ribcage over time by corset training. It’s theorized that the movement and curving of bone is a dynamic process of breaking down one side of the bone and building up the other.

As you put pressure on the front of a rib with a corset, this may signal osteoclasts to break down and dissolve bone on the outside of the rib and then signals osteoblasts to build bone on the inside of the rib so the rib more or less stays the same in size, density etc but simply moves inward.

Skeletal softness during youth

When a human is born, its skeleton is mostly cartilage and has very little bone. The younger an individual is, the less hard bone they have and the more cartilage they have. Cartilage is more flexible, bends more easily and mends more easily if one happens to fracture it.  As the individual grows older, the cartilage slowly is replaced by bone and becomes harder, more dense, more brittle and takes more time to heal fractures.

Thus, in many civilizations where body modification is popular, many of them start the practice during childhood while the bones are still soft. This is why in Traditional China it was customary for foot binding to start between the ages of 3-6. In some parts of Africa, the practice of skull binding is still performed and the process begins in infancy. In Western Europe, ladies often started corseting at the age of 12 (or younger, if they were considered “clumsy” or poor-postured).

For readers currently in their teens: Even though it’s easier to change your body’s shape when you’re younger, I do not suggest that young people train their waist or tightlace – since you’re still growing and developing your skeletal system, you can seriously warp your body and cause harm by putting too much pressure on your spine and ribcage.

Ann Grogan of does not accept any waist training students under the age of 21 since that’s the generally accepted age that young adults have stopped growing in height. I myself thought that I was finished growing by age 14, but then gained an inch between the age of 18-20. I realize that there are young ladies in their teens who are interested in corset training and for those that do decide to start before the age of 18, I’m obligated to recommend that you have your guardians’ permission before engaging in any form of body modification, and I strongly suggest going very slowly, at a rate of no more than 0.5 to 1 inch in reduction each month.

Next time we will discuss why some people are fine with corsets and others find it uncomfortable – we’ll delve into nerves and pain.

Lucy’s Little Life Lesson: Keep your bones strong! Get in some regular resistance training, and consume enough calcium (but not from milk).

*Please note that this article is strictly my opinion and provided for information purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of a medical doctor. Please talk to your doctor if you’d like to start wearing a corset.*