Health & Wellness

Is Your Bra Making You Sick?

One of the most difficult challenges of in fashion is finding a bra with a great fit but did you know that challenge could come with health risks? It has been estimated by retailers that nearly 80 percent of women wear the incorrect bra size and within that number some of us may be experiencing certain health issues they may feel are due to something but in fact is due to our bras.

Wearing an ill-fitting bras can contribute to health problems like back pain, headaches, poor posture & circulation, digestive and respiratory issues and these conditions are more severe in women with large breasts.

“Bras are like suspension bridges,” says Tim Hutchful, a chiropractor with the British Chiropractic Association. “You need a well-engineered bra so your shoulders don’t end up doing all the work. Bras that don’t fit will affect the shoulders and chest, and will almost certainly cause back pain as you get older.”

Possible Health Issues

Back Problems– “Proper support for the breasts has a huge impact on back health. The best place to support the breasts is through the lumbar (lower back), but often, women take the strain through the thoracic (around the ribcage), which can cause a curved back” says Jon-Morten Bell, an Osteopath who believes that properly fitting bras are a key to back health.

Circulatory Issues– The neurovascular bundle of nerves that are attached to your arms can be affected when the pectoral muscles in your chest are compressed. This can cause a pins and needles sensation. Acupuncturists also believe that the metal in underwire bras block the flow of chi because it crosses the body’s meridians, which can cause energy to stagnate.

Respiratory Issues- breathing uses a number of muscles – one set in particular are called the accessory muscles. They run from the upper spine and attach to your upper ribs. Tight bras cause your middle ribs to be held tight so they force your ribs to work harder. Sports bras rely on compression and are designed to keep your breasts in place during exercise and push your breasts inwards. If the elastic around the rib cage is too tight this can also cause breathing issues and may damage breast tissue, especially if you wear them all the time.

Digestive Issues– Your digestive process can be compromised by a tight bra by putting too much pressure on your diaphragm and may cause stomachaches and in some cases be associated with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, according to The British School of Osteopathy.

Skin Issues– The weight of your breasts is mostly supported by the shoulder straps, if they dig in, poke & push the tissue and constantly rub you, they can cause angry red welts and lead to lesions, marks and sores. Your underwire bra can rub your skin to the point of possibly causing fungal infections to develop underneath.

Headaches– If there is pressure on the vertebrae at the top of the back and the bottom of the neck it can cause a thick, dull migraine type headache across the forehead and above the eye due to the imbalance the bra is placing on your posture.

Finding the Right Fit

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According to a study in 2012, ill-fitting bras are due to women relying on the traditional tape measure method for determining what bra size to wear. The study compared the tape measure method against a “best fit” method based on a set of specific criteria and more than three-fourths of the cases using the tape measure method got their bra size wrong. The tape measure fitting method gave a result that were on average one band size larger and one cup size smaller than the best fit method.

Jenny White, a sports scientist and the lead author of the study, from the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at the University of Portsmith in the UK says, “We measured the same women using the two approaches and found that the traditional method resulted in the underband being too loose and the cup too small. Using the best fit criteria our fitters achieved a supportive comfortable fit which our participants were happy with. Wearing a well-fitting bra is crucial to achieving good support and helping women look and feel their best. And it can help prevent back and neck pain and reduce irreversible breast sag”.

The best fit method is preferable to determining a more accurate and correct bra size and the author of the paper stated the five criteria that must be considered when getting fitted:

1. Bra Band
Too tight: flesh bulging over top of band; subjective discomfort “feels too tight”
Too loose: band lifts when arms are moved above head, posterior band not level with infra-mammary fold

2. Bra Cup
Too big: wrinkles in cup fabric
Too small: breast tissue bulging above, below or at the sides

3. Bra Underwire
Incorrect shape: underwire sitting on breast tissue laterally (under armpit) or anterior midline; subjective complaint of discomfort

4. Bra Straps
Too tight: digging in; subjective complaint of discomfort; carrying too much of the weight of the breasts
Too loose: sliding down off shoulder with no ability to adjust the length

5. Bra Front Band
Not all in contact with the sternum

Bras are part of women’s daily routines and a must-have accessory when walking out the door and the reasons we wear certain types bras range from necessity to support to vanity. They come in a plethora of different styles, colors, patterns, straps, wires, padded and and list goes on and on. Your breast size also fluctuates during your period, during pregnancy, with weight gain & loss and with age so should get you get fitted about every six months as the shape and size of breasts changes.

A fitting only takes about ten minutes out of the day, then figure in time for shopping for the perfect bra- this is a small amount of time for the benefits you reap. Whatever you buy and your reason for wearing it – invest the time and money to getting the right bra that fits your body type and needs. With a properly fitted bra your clothes will look better and you and your breasts will definitely feel better.