Could control pants give you back pain? Experts fear 'bodysculpting' undies could cause long-term damage

Bridget Jones swore by them; pop temptress Kylie Minogue recently paid special tribute to them.

Now, thanks to style makeover gurus Trinny and Susannah, and more recently Gok Wan, millions of British women have also discovered the joys of control pants.

At Marks & Spencer alone, a million items of Magicwear  -  as its control range is known  -  are sold every year.

Bridget Jones

Bridget Jones swore by them, but experts believe 'miracle cure' underwear could be bad for women

It's one of the company's biggest sellers, a spokesperson confirmed.

But some experts now believe that 'miracle cure' support underwear could be bad for women.

This is because pot bellies and 'muffin tops'  -  where a woman's stomach spills over her waistband  -  are often the result of weak abdominal muscles, which are linked to back problems, incontinence and even prolapse of the womb.

Furthermore, by hiding behind their control pants, women aren't tackling an even more serious problem: their excessive weight, which puts them at higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

As Neville Rigby, director of public policy at the International Obesity Taskforce, explains: 'We are sleepwalking towards an epidemic of obesity and all the health complications that go with it.

'While I sympathise with anyone who wants to improve their shape by wearing these control undergarments, it is not going to solve the real problem  -  their weight. This is easier to tackle at the outset, rather than kidding yourself and ending up obese.'

The problem is that while Trinny and Susannah might choose to use control pants to look good on the red carpet, they do not need them in everyday life because they are already honed and toned.

Trinny has been doing Pilates for years. And, unlike many of the women on their show, neither woman is overweight.

British women are now the fattest in Europe, with 23 per cent officially classed as obese.

Expanding market

Obese women are 60 per cent more likely to die of breast cancer and twice as likely to die from cancer of the womb or gullet than their slimmer counterparts.

In addition, nearly 35 per cent of British women are overweight, meaning they are storing up health problems for the future.

As women's waists and behinds have spread, the market for underwear to hold everything in has also expanded.

The women of this nation have been lulled into being 'proud' of their obese bodies by a growing army of (thin) fashion gurus brandishing control knickers in increasingly enormous sizes. (Gok, as well as Trinny and Susannah, has control under-wear ranges.)

At Marks & Spencer, which has 16 styles and colours of control wear, from waist cinchers to thigh slimmers and all-over body control, the most popular is the plain trouser knicker (£14).

'There are no seams and it's very comfortable, so a lot of people wear it every day,' said a spokesperson.

But physiotherapist Maxine Rodriguez says: 'Wearing them every day is the problem. Our bodies have a natural "corset" of muscles stretching from the back to the abdominal area. This area is what personal trainers like to call "the core".'

Good muscle tone in this area pulls in and supports the tummy  -  poor tone leads to an unsightly 'muffin' bulge.


'Weak muscles in the tummy mean weak muscles in the back. Control pants are hiding the problem.'


Control pants don't help women gain muscle tone in this area.

The abdominal core muscles link to the pelvic floor. This is the hammock of muscle stretching from the tailbone to the pubic bone, which supports organs including the bladder and bowel. (The pelvic floor plays an important role in controlling the organs' functions.)

These muscles can weaken in pregnancy and childbirth, or due to constipation, chronic coughing, being overweight, lack of fitness or arterial disease.

If you are regularly squeezing your flabby tum into control knickers, you are probably ignoring these key ' hidden' muscles as well.

As you age, lack of tone in the lower abdomen and pelvic floor can lead to incontinence, back problems  -  including strains and injuries from lifting  -  and even prolapse of the womb, experts say.

Rodriguez explains: 'The bottom line is that control pants are not a positive thing. They do give you support in the stomach muscles, but they will not give you a strong tummy, which you will only get through targeted exercises.

'Weak muscles in the tummy mean weak muscles in the back. Control pants are hiding the problem.'

Trinny and Susannah

Trinny and Susannah have advocated control pants, but they don't need to wear them every day

How can you strengthen your abdominal muscles? Core stability is the mainstay of exercise systems such as Pilates  -  a favourite with yummy mummies and celebrities because it strengthens the back and flattens the tummy by toning and tightening these muscles through a series of slow, controlled exercises.

Pilates also focuses on toning the pelvic floor. Pilates teacher Melissa Cosby, who runs the Kinesis studio in West London and counts model Lily Cole among her A-list clientele, says wearing control pants if you are overweight with weak abdominals 'is like strapping an injured ankle after a sprain and never taking the strapping off'.

'However, Pilates-based exercise will help strengthen and contour you muscles,' she says.

It doesn't have to be time-consuming, but it does have to be done regularly to have any ongoing benefit.

Although the best results may come from being under the watchful eye of a teacher who can challenge you, even doing small, subtle abdominal and pelvic-floor exercises at home will help.

Yet you must resist the temptation to do what Cosby calls ' haphazard crunches' which may work the upper layer of muscle but will not give the best results for a flat tummy.

Instead, work on the deeper abdominal muscles. The more you do core stability work, the sooner you will be able to throw out those control pants.

But experts suggest that just 15 minutes a day, plus a sensible diet, should see a change in your firmness within a month.

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