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How Bras Affect Your Spine

Dr. Christina Lowenthal D.C.

sporty woman back

Did you know that 70% of women are wearing bras that are too small? Then there is 10% of women wearing bras that are too big.

Statistics show that women with larger breasts tend to wear bras that are too small or ill-fitting for them and women with smaller breasts tend to wear bras that are too big. As we know, bras can be expensive and women tend to wear a bra past its expiration. Bras to deteriorate wit age. Laundering them will stretch them out. That doesn’t mean don’t wash them, but do it appropriately and be aware of their elasticity.

With all of this in mind, you may ask how wearing the wrong or ill-fitting bra actually affect my spine. Bras are designed to provide support. If the bra is too loose or too tight, your posture will change and not for the positive. As your posture in your neck and shoulders shift forward due to the lack of support from the bra, you will experience upper back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain. Breast related upper back pain is a result of changes in center of gravity. Spinal postures differ according to breast size. Larger the breast the greater the increase in cervical lordosis or flattening of the cervical curve(neck curve) and increase in thoracic kyphosis (mid back curve) or accentuated back curve or “hump”.

This change in center of gravity can increase muscular effort required to maintain balance. It is also suggested that large or heavy breast may lead to continuous tension on the middle and lower traps and associated muscle groups. There is also the factor of cycle. As a menstruating females, the ups and downs of estrogen and progesterone can swell the breast and make a bra ill-fitted.

Pregnancy hormone shifts are another factor for women to be aware of. Wearing the same bra you’ve had prior to pregnancy isn’t gonna cut it. Getting measured is extremely important, especially as young girls are developing and as women’s bodies change due to hormonal changes.

If going to a store to be fitted is daunting, there are easy steps you can do at home to find the right size. In some cases, a partner may be necessary. There are methods to measure band size. Using a fabric ruler, measure the circumference of the rib cage above the breast and then again under the breast. Do this measurement 3 time; full breath in, normal breathing, and full breath out. With those measurement take the mean number of the 3. That will be your band size.

If the number is odd (i.e. 33), round up. The next measurement is across the fullest part of the breast and around the rib cage. This is to measure cup size. At this point you will take those two measurements and subtract the larger number from the smaller number (i.e. 36-3=3). The system for cup size goes as follows: 1″= A Cup, 2″=B cup, 3″=C cup, 4″=D, 5″=DD, 6″=DDD or F, 7″=G, 8″=H, 9″=I, 10″=J, and 11″=K. Bands are important, you don’t want them to be too loose. If you place a flat hand in the band and rotate it and pull back, the band should not budge much. If your hand can come completely off the back, the band is too loose.

Bra cups should be large enough to prevent breast tissue from bulging or spilling out over the neckline or the armhole edges.

You’ll know if the cups are too large if there is wrinkling or are clearly larger than both breasts. Bra straps should be snug but not digging into skin. If the straps are digging in the shoulders, there is a chance the band is too big or stretched out and not allowing for support.

The straps are not designed to “hold” the breast tissue up. At the most they are going to add support at around 10% or less. The bra should stay in place without the straps on the shoulders. If the bra doesn’t perform that way, the band size is wrong, cup size may be as well. Underwire is important as well.

Your breasts have a natural “crease line” where the underwire should fit comfortably against your rib cage. The diameter of your underwire is too small if the underarm end is poking breast tissue, sitting on top of breast tissue or catching your arm as it moves forward. The diameter of your underwire is too large if the underarm end is poking into your armpit. The best underwire for you will be one that encircles your breast and gives you a more rounded and defined look.

Shorter women find that some underwires poke them under their arms because the wires are simply too tall for their body frame. Look for a bra with a more shorter underwire. At Victoria’s Secret a Demi bra has a shorter underwire.

Sports bras come in all different styles and designed for certain types of activities. Encapsulated sport bras have individual cups to surround and support each breast. There is no compression and may be worn like day to day bras.
Compression sports bras are likely to be pull over the head. The will restrict chest movement and are best for low-medium impact activities. Compression/encapsulated sports bras offer more support and comfort.

These bras are designed for high impact activities. In addition to these three types of sports bras, there are many different looks/styles.

Crisscross backs have straps that provide good support and are often adjustable. Tank top styles are similar to the every day bra and usually come with adjustable straps.

Racerback bras provide support for medium to high impact activities. These straps are not usually adjustable and can pull on the neck and cause neck pain especially for larger breasted women. Like stated before, racer back bras have a tendency to pull on the neck and upper back muscles which can create upper back pain from the excessive strain. The weight of the breast is a major part of this issue. The problem is the hammock of the bra is too short and you don’t have enough coverage above the breast region or the bra is just not strong enough. Racer backed bras tend to sit too high on the torso. This will bring tissue up higher creating more weight for the neck and shoulders.

These types of bras don’t cover the breast enough. Stopping the initial upward motion of the breast during movement is key. It takes less tension to stop breast tissue from going up than it does on the way down. Racer back bras are strong enough but will make you think they are because they squeeze but that is a poor indicator of support. To remove shoulder and neck pain, the fabric of the bra around the chest must be strong enough that it feel like a bandeau.

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