Do we really need bras?

 

The simple answer is, yes!

This article discusses the reasons why we need well-fitted and supportive bras, and some handy hints about what constitutes a ‘good’ bra.

As Osteopaths, we encounter women of all ages, sizes and fitness levels. It is important for our patients to understand that over time, your breasts will change along with the rest of your body. Body fat composition and weight changes, hormonal fluctuations and age are factors that can affect the size and shape of breasts over a woman’s lifetime.

Upper back pain, neck pain, headaches and even shoulder pain are commonly associated with poor posture. These are among the most frequent presenting complaints that we see in our clinic. Something that might also be influencing your posture may be an ill-fitting bra. A bra that fits you well and provides adequate support may help to improve your symptoms.

It isn’t always true that breast size is proportional to the level of pain experienced in the upper back region, but it is common to see women with larger breasts in bras that are simply too small. Similarly, women with smaller breasts are more likely to be wearing bras that are too big. If a bra does not properly support the breasts and aid in re-distributing their weight, a woman’s centre of gravity will shift to the front of the body, making it more difficult and tiring for her to maintain good upright posture. This in turn can maintain and aggravate strain across the shoulders, upper back and neck leading to stiffness, sore muscles and sometimes headaches.

Osteopaths also encounter many women who enjoy exercise, be it walking, running, dancing or playing sport. Sports bras are designed to minimise what is referred to as ‘bounce’. Breast pain and many other complaints can arise from a sports bra that doesn’t adequately minimise breast displacement (or ‘bounce’) when undertaking these activities.

A particular age group that may be at risk of breast pain during exercise is adolescent girls, with changes to their bodies occurring rapidly and breast pain being a common complaint during puberty. Pregnant women and breast feeding mothers are also a group that may experience breast pain during exercise due to increase in breast size and volume. With more research behind the design of sports bras, it shouldn’t be difficult to find one that is comfortable and supportive for any age or breast size.

 

Handy Hints

Number one rule about a ‘good’ bra is that you should barely notice that it’s there and it’s comfortable enough to wear all day without discomfort.

Cups that are too small (or large in some cases) and underbust bands that are too tight are the most common indicators that a bra doesn’t fit you well.

The straps of a bra are NOT the primary support, and plenty of women rely on tight straps to make a bra fit. The underbust region, or the band around the chest should be doing all of the heavy lifting. An underbust that doesn’t squeeze too tight or ride up at the back is the right size for you.

The most important thing to note is the abundance of variation in types of bras. Your size may vary between styles. A t-shirt bra is not the same as a push-up, nor is a plunge cut bra the same as a balconnet. Depending on your size and shape, one may be more suitable for you as well.

Bras are only good for months to a few short years. Every time you wear or wash a bra, its elasticity may increase, therefore lessening the amount of support it will provide. If a bra is too stretched and becomes too lose, it’s time to replace it.

The ‘swoop and scoop’ manoeuvre – you may have already heard of it, but don’t know why you should use it. A well-fitted bra will enclose all breast tissue without the underwire pinching or digging in. To make sure all breast tissue is in the cup, lean forward (‘swoop’) and gently scoop the breast from the underarm region into the cup. If the underwire digs in uncomfortably, try the next cup size up.

Easiest way to find out what suits your body, is to try bras of all cuts and designs. If you don’t know where to start or just need extra help to find the right bra, many department and lingerie stores offer free bra fitting services to their customers.

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