So you walk past a window and notice your body’s silhouette in the reflection. Maybe your dress feels a little more form-fitting than it did last year. Or maybe you want to look good for the attractive passerby on the street. What’s your next move? If your answer is “suck in your stomach,” join the club, sister.
Sucking in one’s stomach, or “stomach gripping,” to create a flatter, smoother-looking midsection is an almost involuntary instinct many of us know all too well. It can become an uncomfortable norm—we might even spend the whole day tensing our abdomen without realizing it.
According to Cleveland Health Clinic chiropractor Adam Browning, the practice is more than an exercise in vanity. All that sucking in could be doing far more physical harm than good.
The Side Effects Of Stomach Gripping
Browning shared his insights into stomach gripping and a resulting problem called “hourglass syndrome” in a blog post on the Cleveland Health Clinic’s website. He defined stomach gripping as chronic, repeated contractions of the abdomen and stated that this eventually alters the movement patterns of four distinct muscle areas.
Chronic stomach gripping can result in a malfunction of our “six-pack” abs, internal obliques, transversus abdominis, and diaphragm. The upper abdomen muscles remain hypertonic or tight, while the muscles in the lower abdomen become weak.
Our core is critical to overall physical function, so it’s not surprising that incorrectly training and working this area can result in a myriad of unsavory health issues. (None of which, by the way, seem worth a slightly flatter-looking tummy.)
Signs Of Hourglass Syndrome
Hourglass syndrome refers to a varying set of symptoms, including muscle pain, pelvic floor problems, and even breathing problems. Here are a few of the adverse side effects of too much sucking in.
1. Breathing Problems
When we suck in our stomachs, the contents of our lungs and stomach are pushed higher into the rib cage via intra-abdominal pressure.
Normally, our diaphragm moves downward when we take a deep breath. This creates empty space that the lungs can fill as they expand with air. But hourglass syndrome causes the opposite effect, forcing the diaphragm to move upward. According to Browning, this can reduce your oxygen intake by as much as 30%.
2. Neck And Back Pain
Similarly, stomach gripping will affect the movements of the muscles in our neck, upper back, and lower back. Instead of these muscles supporting our upper body, they are forced to compensate for the improperly flexed abdominal muscles. This results in muscle stiffness and pain.
3. Pelvic Floor Issues
It’s fairly common knowledge that childbirth, menopause, and aging can wreak havoc on your pelvic floor. But guess what? So can sucking in your stomach. Stomach gripping weakens soft tissues by keeping them in a state of constant stretch. A weak pelvic floor can cause urine leakage, incontinence, and painful sex.
Do You Have Hourglass Syndrome? If So, What Next?
Any of the three physical symptoms above can be an indicator of hourglass syndrome. But other clues include a slightly upturned belly button, horizontal lines around or above your belly button, and firm definition in your upper abs with a significantly softer lower ab region.
Hourglass syndrome is treated through psychotherapy and physiotherapy, which can help restrengthen muscles. Diaphragmatic breathing can also help loosen tense ab muscles and make your body more comfortable with being in a relaxed state.
Sucking in one’s stomach, just like any other bad habit, can be hard to break—but it’s possible. Practicing self-love, working the muscles correctly, wearing clothes that make you feel comfortable, and being patient with yourself can help retrain your body to relax, not flex.
And with time, you might be able to lessen your hourglass syndrome symptoms and, most importantly, learn to feel a little more comfortable in your skin.