Neurology: Paralysis from ‘Skinny Jeans'

Neurologists may need a new ICD-10 code for this one. Australian researchers report on the mysterious case of a woman whose temporary inability to walk was traced to her "skinny jeans."

The Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry reports on “a new neurological complication of wearing tight jeans.”

Karmen Wai, MD, and colleagues at the neurology unit of Royal Adelaide Hospital in Adelaide, Australia describe their detective work in the case of a 35-year-old woman who came into their hospital after she was found lying on the ground, unable to move.

On examination, physicians found that her legs were too swollen to get her jeans off, and they had to cut them from her.

Other symptoms were bilateral foot drop and foot numbness, which had cause her to trip and fall. According to the article, she spent several hours on the ground before being found.

The neurology team also found impaired sensation over the lateral aspects of both lower legs, the dorsum and sole of both feet. The patient's peripheral pulse were normal and her feet were warm and well-perfused.

The patient showed markedly elevated creatine kinase and signs of myonecrosis.

Nerve conduction studies showed a block in both common peroneal nerves between the popliteal fossa and fibular head.

They concluded that the most likely reason for her temporary paralysis was that she had spent many hours squatting in her tight jeans while cleaning out cupboards for a relative who was moving.

“We postulate that in the present case, the peroneal neuropathies were the result of compression between the biceps femoris tendon and the tibular head as a result of squatting,” the authors wrote.

The tibial nerve damage was likely the result of her calf nerves being compressed by swollen muscles due to squatting.

That led them back to the skinny jeans as the agent that had “likely potentiated the tibial neuropathies by causing a compartment syndrome as the lower legs swelled.”

The woman was admitted to the hospital for 4 days, treated with intravenous hydration and fully recovered.

The case contributes to what is known on the hazards of tight jeans, such as previous reports of neuropathy “limited to lesions of the lateral cutaneous nerve of the thigh, likely caused by compression of the nerve at the inguinal ligament.”

The British Medical Journal in 1977 reported on squatting hazards, in this case a neurological phenomenon known as “strawberry pickers’ foot drop.”

The journal article was reported today in the Los Angeles Times.