Do Corsets Carry any Health Risks?
I can and have talked for hours on this subject, but writing a dedicated article on corset health risks is undoubtedly going to open a can of worms.
Not surprisingly, I get this question a lot. When I look at my site search term referrers for the past month alone, I see:
- dangers of waist training
- is waist cinching dangerous
- risks of corset waist training
- waist trainer dangers
- the dangers of corsets
- health risks corsets
- waist training risks
- is waist training bad for you
If you search for any of these terms and happen to click on an online newspaper column or a fitness blog, they will probably parrot the same horror stories and urban legends that have been repeated for the past century – ever evolving, like a game of broken telephone.
In a previous article responding to BBC’s “Hidden Dangers of the Victorian Home”, I explained how other clothing generally considered acceptable today, especially high heels, can pose risks in certain situations.
In the interest of keeping this post short, I won’t go into specifics about every single corset-related ailment ever uttered; if you are interested in learning how the corset may affect specific systems, the Physical Effects of Corseting series is there at your disposal. You’re welcome to watch the playlist on Youtube or read the corresponding articles in this section of my site. I’m not a doctor, nor do I play one on the internet, but my biochemistry degree has given me a fair understanding of how the body works, and taught me how to do proper research.
Any time someone asks me whether corseting is dangerous, I will always tell them the same thing: if you are already in good health, if you invest in a well-made corset that actually fits your body properly, and if you are responsible about how you use the corset, then danger can be minimized. But one time a reporter tried to get me to state that I believe corsets pose zero risk. No. Even as a regular lacer and a proponent of corsetry, I will never say that corsetry poses zero risk. There is a risk with everything. Let me explain:
Carrots pose a risk to your safety
I’m sure most dieticians would tell you that carrots are very healthy, but my aunt spontaneously developed a fatal allergy to them while pregnant with my cousin (she had been able to eat them all her life, then one day she went into anaphylaxis from them). One of my friends in university once accidentally inhaled a baby carrot and it lodged in his throat. In both situations, they were home alone. Had they not been able to take proper action in time, carrots could have killed them.
When I was 10 or 11 years old, I was chopping a carrot into sticks, and it rolled out of place and I ended up slicing my finger open! I was lucky – had the knife been sharper, had the angle of the knife been different, or had I dropped the knife, I could have lost a finger or hit a larger blood vessel and bled profusely. Sounds ridiculous, but accidents happen every day.
Everything (even corsets and carrots) comes with risks, but it depends on what conditions you’re already predisposed to (e.g. my aunt’s allergy) and it depends on how responsibly you use it (e.g. in the case of my buddy who choked due to user error). And in the case of my slicing my finger open chopping carrots? Well, the slicing was really done by the knife, and caused by myself (also user error) – not the carrot. It didn’t stop the carrot for taking the blame, though. To this day I hate chopping carrots, although I’m fine with using a sharp knife to cut up other food. Both my friend and my aunt avoid carrots, for obvious reasons. Had carrots not been so ubiquitous, I might have thought that carrots were killers, as so many think of corsets today.
Exercise poses a risk to your safety
There are tales of CrossFit athletes developing rhabdomyolysis (this is the disintegration of muscle fibers causing an influx of myoglobin carried through the circulatory system), which can overload the kidneys, and in some situations cause kidney damage or failure and the need for emergency dialysis.
Weight lifting can cause hernias, it can cause uterine/vaginal prolapse in women, and with poor form it can lead to broken bones or ruptured tendons.
People who were otherwise completely fit and healthy have been known to suddenly die of heart failure in the middle of sports or running, due to a previously asymptomatic and undiagnosed congenital heart condition.
I am not saying this to vilify carrots or any type of exercise. I have always stressed that a healthy lifestyle is not without proper nutrition and exercise. But it would be irresponsible to say that anything in this world, no matter how common or how seemingly innocuous, comes without risk. Water has risks. Heat and cold have risks. Corsets have risks too.
When you use the right tools, when you go about it with proper form, when you are responsible and you accept your body’s limitations, that’s when your risks are minimized.
For almost everyone, the benefits of exercise outweigh the risks. And for many people, for instance Sasha who survived a motorcycle accident, corsetry becomes a necessary medical tool and increases one’s quality of life – and the benefits outweigh the risks.
What are some negative risks or dangers associated with corsetry?
Here are real stories that I have heard first person from modern corset wearers (not urban legends from long ago):
- Some find that their blood pressure can become elevated while they’re wearing a corset (although those with chronically low blood pressure have found this to be beneficial for them)
- Others find that if they have uterine prolapse, that the pressure from the corset makes it uncomfortable.
- In my case, a corset that is not properly made to fit me can end up pressing on a superficial nerve on my hip and causing pain, tingling or numbness in the area (although this doesn’t happen with a custom corset designed to fit me; and other people who don’t have this asymmetry do not seem to have this issue).
- Wearing a corset regularly (especially in the heat and without a liner underneath) can potentially cause skin problems which can become worse if you don’t treat it properly and take a break from the corset.
- Some report slight constipation (although another chronically constipated person had reported becoming more regular since the use of corsets; results vary).
- Other individuals have experienced headaches or acid reflux (although Sarah Chrisman reported reduction in her migraines and reflux, interestingly).
- I have also legitimately opened my closet door and had a pile of corsets drop on me before.
What are some positive risks or benefits associated with corsetry?
There is an entire section of my website called Corset Benefits that is dedicated to collecting the positive stories and benefits people have experienced since they started using corsets. It’s three pages long; covering physical, mental, emotional, societal and economical factors.
Corsets are not made for everyone, just as certain types of shoes are not made for everyone. If you have certain health conditions (including but not limited to) hypertension, certain types of hernias, or conditions that cause gastrointestinal inflammation (irritable bowel, Crohn’s, colitis, etc), you may find that certain risks outweigh the benefits. This is why I will always say to talk to your doctor if you would like to use a corset for any reason, whether it’s for fun or aesthetic reasons, whether you are waist training, or whether you wear the corset for therapeutic purposes.
Talk to your doctor.
I put that in the largest font WordPress would let me, because it’s extremely important. My family doctor, my chiropractor, and even my dentist all know about my corsets. I have also had my chiropractor take an x-ray of me while wearing one of my corsets. I’ve also had the opportunity to show some of my corsets to a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, and several registered nurses to see what they think. Not one of these practitioners have told me to stop wearing corsets. Nevertheless, I still have my health monitored regularly because I want to do this responsibly.
I also invest in custom corsets that fit my body and accommodate my individual quirks (like the nerve that runs over my left hip) so they don’t cause me discomfort. I listen to my body: I put on a corset when I feel like it, and I loosen or remove the corset when I feel like it. There is nothing heroic about pushing yourself further than your body can handle.
So here I am, a corset cheerleader, telling you that wearing corsets does carry some risks. If you tell me that you plan to wear a corset or that you already wear corsets, I trust that you have already done extensive research on corsetry (from multiple sources), that you are aware of corset health risks or side effects of corsets (both good and bad), that you have talked to your trusted practitioner, that you have been given the thumbs up in your health (or that your health conditions merit the therapeutic use of a corset), that you are able to read and respond appropriately to your body’s signals and go about wearing corsets responsibly. If you haven’t, then you are putting the risk of user error into your own hands.