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  • Laura Birnie

The Battle of the Bras: Good Bras vs Bad Bras

Could such an essential and humble item of underwear be a cause of back pain and posture problems? The answer is absolutely YES!

Yes, your bra could certainly be contributing to your back pain!

Many women consider bras to be essential for providing support, comfort, and confidence. However, not all bras are created equal. Some can offer benefits, while others may fall short, leading to discomfort, health concerns, and inadequate support.

Let's explore the differences between good and bad bras shedding light on the importance of choosing the right bra for optimal breast health, posture and well-being.

Bra, the modern corset

Whilst not as extreme as the corset of the past, modern bras can still be highly restrictive to your body…

Ill-fitting and poorly designed breast supports can lead to restriction of the movement of your ribcage, pull your shoulders forward and lead to pain in shoulders or burning sensations in between the shoulder blades and even poor posture.

If you are like most women, it's likely you take your bra off when you get home.

Why? For immediate relief from the discomfort of underwires and straps that are digging in, straps that are slipping off, shoulders aching, back hurting, and the feeling of compression and restriction to your chest and breathing.

If you experience relief when you remove your bra, then consider that your bra has become a bully to your body!

Unfortunately, there are many poorly designed bras on the market. Most women have learned to accept that bras are uncomfortable and even sacrifice comfort for fashion and chic. But women, you’ve been misled; your bra does not need to be a daily nuisance.

The wrong shape bra can:

  • Create poor posture

  • Effect your form and efficiency while exercising

  • Decrease your ability to take a deep breath

The Importance of Proper Fit:

A good bra should fit well, providing adequate support without constriction. Research published emphasises the significance of proper bra fit in preventing breast discomfort and potential health issues. Ill-fitting bras can lead to back and shoulder pain, restricted blood circulation, and skin irritation.

Sports Support and Breast Health:

Research has shown that good bras can have a positive impact on breast health. A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Science found that well-fitting sports bras can help reduce breast movement during physical activity, minimising breast discomfort and potential damage to ligaments. Another study revealed that supportive bras can alleviate breast pain experienced by women with breast hypertrophy, enhancing their overall well-being.

Wire vs. Wire-free Bras:

One common debate in the bra world revolves around wired and wire-free bras. While wired bras can offer enhanced support and shape, they may pose certain risks and contrary to popular belief.. Most breasts don't need it. According to a study published in the Journal of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, underwired bras can increase the pressure on breast tissue, potentially affecting lymphatic drainage and contributing to breast health issues. Wire-free bras, on the other hand, provide a more relaxed fit and can be a better option for those seeking comfort while still maintaining proper support.

The Impact of Bra Sizing on Comfort:

Many women wear the wrong bra size without even realising it. Research indicates that wearing a bra with an incorrect band, straps that cut into shoulders, or cup size can lead to discomfort, pain, and even breast tissue damage. Some research articles stress the importance of accurate bra sizing to ensure the best fit and comfort.

Signs you are wearing the wrong size bra – and what you should change

A 2008 STUDY found that 80% of women were wearing the wrong size bra. Unless you are intentional with choosing bras that fit correctly, you likely fall into that camp. Here are the clues:

  1. The under-band is too high, or it digs into your skin. The under-band should sit level all around your ribs and should be a moderately firm fit. Allow a 5 cm gap when pulled away from your body and should stay level when you move around.

  2. You have spillover at the top, sides, or bottoms of your cups. Your whole breast should fit comfortably in each cup.

  3. The underwire is digging into your breast. You need a larger cup size.

  4. The centre of your chest band lifts away from your chest. The centre gore (the part of the bra in between the cups) should rest against your body without gapping.

  5. Your straps keep falling off your shoulders, or you have indents across your shoulders from your bra straps. You should be able to pull the straps about a half-inch to one inch above your shoulder. Use wide straps for better support.

  6. Your sports bra crosses at the back. Those bras create chest compression and pull the shoulders and upper forward.

  7. You get neck, back, or shoulder pain while wearing a particular bra. Your body is giving you helpful feedback. You may not have the right fitting bra.

What about the no-bra option?

Jean-Denis Rouillon, Doctor at the Besançon Hospital and Professor at the Franch-Comté University in France studied breast health changes in women choosing not to wear a bra.

Following the observation of 320 women, less sagging was noticeable, and breasts were firmer. The participants of the study also noticed more comfort, less pain and a better ability to breathe.

Try this brief self-experiment and see your bra is affecting your body

  • Take a deep breath wearing your bra: notice how much air comes in and how easy it is.

  • Take a deep breath without it and notice the difference in your breathing.

You may well find a significantly better, deeper and easier breath with your bra off — this is a sign that your bra, whether through incorrect size or poor fitting, is restricting optimal joint and muscle functions in your back.

Another simple test is to have your partner or friend lift the tops of your bra straps off the shoulder (this takes the downward pressure off of your shoulder) and test your breathing. Again, if that improves your breathing, your bra is incorrectly fitted.

Choosing the right bra is crucial for optimal breast health, comfort, and confidence. People do not generally consider their body to be a well oiled machine, but it is. Even moderate restrictions and pressures that alter normal movement and alignment patterns can, over time, create problems.

The basic purpose of a bra is to provide sufficient support for your breasts. If you choose a good bra, you will be comfortable and unrestricted in your day-to-day activities. On the other hand, a poorly fitted bra can cause you an awful lot of unnecessary aches and pains, and unfortunately, not enough women are aware of that fact. So my encouragement to you is to choose function over fashion and live your life unrestricted.

As always, if you’d like to know more, please don't hesitate to ask one of the practitioners!

Here are some basic recommendations for bras;

Basic bras

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