After hours of fruitless bra shopping, it’s easy to give up, fleeing the changing room with one that doesn’t really fit us.
That, or we’ve bought the same size for years, and never considered whether it’s right or not.
Whatever the reason, wearing a poorly-fitting bra can do more than create a odd-looking silhouette from under your clothes; it could be one of the things causing you back ache. But how can we tell if our bra’s doing us more damage than good?
“A bra may be causing you back ache, but without presenting the usual other symptoms of a poorly-fitting bra such as digging in straps or discomfort around the breasts themselves,” Robin Lansman, the president of the Institute of Osteopathy and experienced osteopath of more than 28 years, explains.
“You’re more likely to get back pain that you won’t associate with the bra straight away as one that doesn’t provide the right support affects your posture as a whole – whether it’s too tight or too loose.”
He says that while the point at which a bra band sits – where your ribs attach to your spine between your shoulder blades – should be an “ideal” place to support posture, if it’s in the wrong place, it won’t be doing that job at all.
And this support is important – especially if you sit at a desk all day.
Rather than obvious bra-related discomfort, Lansman says it could be causing anything from a stiff upper back, neck or even rib pain – but also pins and needles in your arms.
“When your posture’s being compromised your neck, front of your rib cage and some of your throat area is being squashed or pulled in a way that’s causing symptoms to move into your arms and into your hands,” he explains.
“It might cause peculiar effects – not just pain.”
So when choosing a bra, or deciding if your current one fits, remember that every measurement is important – not just the cup sizes but the straps and band at the back.
“Some department stores do offer bra fittings, but they’re doing it from a saleperson’s perspective, not an osteopath’s,” says Lansman.
“If you had your back checked, they could give you targeted advice on what you should look for in a bra.”
The problem with figuring out if your pain or discomfort is caused by your bra specifically is that, well, back pain is a complicated matter. As Lansman explains, there are many things that could be a sign of an ill-fitting bra, but just about anything can be the cause of back pain.
There are various exercises that are good for back health generally too – he recommends swimming, for example – but without a diagnosis, it’s hard to know what’ll help.
Importantly, Lansman warns that we should be wary ‘strength-building’ exercise classes or absolutely going for it at the gym in the hope it’ll keep our backs in good shape.
“I see loads of people who’ve been working out like mad, doing tons of upper body stuff – they’ll do a lot of reps, heavy weights in classes that encourage them to increase their load and you actually end up with more tension. And probably more pain.
“When people are encouraging you to do exercise, we often think they must be right. But they’re not a professional who’s been trained enough in that area.”
In other words, unless you get it checked out, it’s hard to tell exactly for sure if your bra is causing you back pain. But what’s for sure is if it’s too tight and squashing your rib cage, or too loose and riding up your back, it won’t be doing your back any good.
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