Boobs, Bras and Back pain

Studies have consistently shown that women are not wearing the correct bra size, but what impact does this have on posture and your bodies aches and pains?

When asked about breast health, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Breast cancer, right? And rightly so. Breast cancer is probably one of the only talked about conditions relating to the breasts that women, and men, are open to discussing.

But there are other issues surrounding boobs that maybe we should be a little more aware of, and open to talking about.

Over all of the years that I have been working in the wellbeing and fitness industry, boobs have always been a sore topic (pun totally intended), literally and figuratively. With so many of my clients trying to hold their boobs down, strap them in, keep them in place. There have been countless conversations about sports bras, very few of which have been positive.

But, shockingly, a higher percentage of women feel that their boobs are a barrier to exercise. Yes, their breasts actually stop them from being active.

In fact, in a study of nearly 250 women, the fourth most common reason for not exercising, behind energy, time and health, was breasts! 17% of women surveyed put their inactivity down to their chest size, commenting that they were embarrassed by the movement of the chest or that they could not find a suitable sports bra.

I can believe this, as a personal trainer, I have witnessed so many of my clients physically holding the breasts down whilst trying to perform even a light jog.

But, did you know that the movement of the breast itself doesn’t differ that much, if at all, between a jog and a full blown sprint?



In fact, there has been numerous studies in to the movement of the breast, measuring not only distance travelled, but speed and velocity. Honestly. The clever scientists have managed to record the gravitational force of the boob when a woman accelerates or decelerates from walk to run and back.

The recorded acceleration/deceleration of the boob in an anterior/posterior plane of movement (forward and backward) is a staggering 3G. That’s 3 times the normal gravitational force!

In search of the ultimate way to support the breasts through use of a bra, there have been many scientific studies carried out, from measuring their gravitational force, to studying the bio mechanical movement of the breast, to assessing the distance travelled by the tissue, and even the speed at which they move the most.

Who’d have thought that so much effort goes into the care of the boobs?

So, let’s look at some facts!

The breasts move in 3-dimensional direction, up/down, side to side, forwards and backwards. Depending on your movement, largely determines the direction of travel, but in most natural circumstances they move in a figure of eight pattern.

It turns out that 10 km/ph is the speed at which the breasts have the most amount of movement.

At a walk, the breasts move up to 33% in all directions, but as you move into a jog or run, the pattern changes, with about 22% lateral movement, and over 50% vertical movement.

It’s the vertical movement that tends to be the problem for many women, and usually what leads to comments like “give yourself a black eye”.

That’s because, when measuring the distance travelled in that vertical bounce, a staggering 21+ cms has been recorded. 21cm of vertical movement! That’s SHOCKING!

I’m not sure if you have ever weighed your boobs, but if you’re a curious type, then it’s worth plonking the twins on the kitchen scales one at a time, just to get a real sense of the weight that you are throwing around in front of you.

Even a relatively modest size of breast can pack a punch, with what could be deemed as “average” weighing in excess of 1kg per boob. That’s 2 bags of sugar strapped to your chest, bouncing around.

It’s no surprise that women feel uncomfortable exercising, but also suffer with back issues.

It is this extreme amount of movement in the breast tissue that causes damage to the Coopers ligaments and skin that hold the breast in its “pert” position in front of the chest, but as you reach your late 30’s and 40’s, and the hormones begin to change as the body prepares to move into the peri-menopause, the elasticity of the skin and coopers ligaments begins to degrade and thin.

I am pretty sure you know what happens next!

Those bags of sugar you have been carrying around in front of you start to droop and sag, as the Coopers ligaments become like old stretched springs that can no longer pull the breast shape back into place.

This “sagging” actually has a technical name, Ptosis.

The good news is, Ptosis can be influenced, and with the appropriate fitting bra size and style, you can minimise the amount of sag.

After all, we all wear a bra, so we may as well make it functional and work for us!

Obviously, our breast shape and size changes throughout our life, and through various life events, such as puberty, pregnancy, menopause, weight loss/gain and even on a monthly basis through our menstrual cycle. And it is pretty fair to say that not many of us wear the same style bra as we wore in our 20’s or maybe even our 30’s.

But, the problem arises when many women don’t adjust the size or style of their bra in accordance to the changes occuring within their bust. I know that I am certainly not the same size or shape that I was in my 20’s. My husband is constantly reminding me of how, and I quote “he has home grown a perfect pair!”. (I’ll admit I was slimmer and smaller when we met, so inevitably as I have aged and entered the peri-menopause and then started hormone therapy, my bust has definitely changed massively!)

208 women aged between 45 and 65 years were studied and questioned about their breasts, 80% of which had experienced changes, commenting on sagging, changes in size and loss of firmness. Only 7% were proud of their breasts and over 50% would not wear the same bra now to what they wore in their 20’s.

And in truth, the measuring methods used in many of the high street stores is hugely out-dated. It actually began back in the 1940’s when the Dior “Woman of the Future” hourglass figure was all the rage, and the measurements reflected this. With bra measurements resulting in a band size too big and a cup size too small.

This may not sound too drastic or problematic right now, but the fit of the bra and support it offers to the thoracic spine soon become a problem if they are incorrect.

Consider how many women you know who have back, neck or shoulder issues. Off the top of my head right now, I can think of at least 15 women I am friends with, or work with currently who suffer with these issues.

It has been studied and found that bust size and musculoskeletal pain are linked. And in actual fact, even women with moderate to smaller breasts still experienced pain related to ill-fitting bras and an unsupported busts.

What goes up at the back, must go down at the front

Many women cannot wait to rip their bra off when they arrive home from work or a day out, and if this is you, then I am sorry to tell you that you are definitely wearing the wrong size.

  • If the back strap rides up, you are not wearing the right size.
  • If the underwire stabs into breast tissue, you are not wearing the right size.
  • If the over arm strap is lifted away from your chest, you are not wearing the right size!
  • If you have shoulder grooves where the straps sit, you are NOT wearing the right size!
  • If the straps fall off the shoulder and you feel insecure, you are not wearing the right size!

This may all sound silly, but the media reports that 70-80% of women are not correctly fitted. A 10 year study showed 99% of women were wearing the wrong size, and a 6 month study conducted by physiotherapists trained in bra fitting and postural alignment found 100% of women were wearing the incorrect fitting bra. 66% of which had been fitted in a high street store.

ALL of which were in the study as they had reported back, shoulder or neck pain of varying intensities.

However, after being correctly fitted and matched with an appropriate bra size and style, the frequency and intensity of the pain reduced markedly. Suggesting that the pain was a result of the ill-support offered to the breasts and thus affecting the posterior (back) muscles of the body, mainly through the thoracic (mid) spine and shoulders/neck.

A correctly fitted bra can give benefits, such as:

  • Decreased Pain/Management of Pain
  • Improved Body Shape
  • Reduced movement of the breasts (reducing/minimising Ptosis)
  • Improved Biomechanics and Range of motion through the torso
  • Improved Self Image and Self Worth

In menopause, the problems can be amplified by the onset of reduced Oestrogen, and the resulting loss of elasticity in the skin/ligaments throughout the body, as well as the weakening of the bones (osteopenia/osteoporosis).

This weakening of the structural tissues and bones within the body could lead to Accentuated Kyphosis. This is where the kyphotic curvature of the spine is exaggerated, pushing the head forwards and out of alignment, and in some cases, pushing the lordotic curve forwards… which again I hate to tell you.. pushes your stomach forwards.

Interestingly, the key symptoms deemed as “requirements” for breast reduction with the NHS are almost identical to the signs and symptoms of an ill fitting bra!

The breasts, when housed in a well fitted bra should be uplifted, forward projected and well supported. NOT pointing down and out, or as Siobhan from Posture Fitting would say “the Headlights are dipped” when then should be Full beam.

So, as a starting point, ask yourself…

  • Do you suffer with headaches, back pain, shoulder or neck pain when wearing certain bras?
  • Can you not wait to take the bra off when you get home?
  • Are you being stabbed by the wires, or bulging out of the top/sides of your cup?
  • Do your boobs point down and out?
  • Does your strap ride up at the back?

All of the above and more are tell tale signs that your bra is not the correct size for you. But, as I have already mentioned, the measuring methods used in many high street shops are out dated and quite frankly, wrong.

So how are you meant to get a fitting?

Well, firstly, it may be worth while visiting somewhere like Rigby & Peller in London for a fitting, or perhaps even contacting Siobhan at Posture Fitting. She is able to arrange a fitting for you virtually if necessary or at least can recommend on where is best to get an in person fitting.

Once you know your true size and shape, and have an appropriately fitting bra, you will feel the benefits and the difference instantaneously, and not just in how your bust looks and feels, but how the rest of your body feels and how YOU FEEL mentally as well.

A good bust carriage is an important tool in the confidence tool kit.

In fact, on November 25th, check out the Nourished Podcast that I have recorded with Siobhan from Posture Fitting for even more Breast, Bra and Back Pain chat. It wont be available until the 25th, but there is already plenty of podcasts to listen to in the mean time.
But seriously, it is definitely worth the wait. Spending just a little bit of time with this lady taught me so many things about my boobs, and now, at nearly 40 years of age, I finally know how to put on a bra properly!

I’d love to hear your bra stories, so if you have any that you want to share, or if you want to talk to me about bra fitting, then get in touch at hello@nourishedwellbeing.com and let’s have a honest chat about your boobs, bras and back pain.

I hope that you have found this blog interesting today, and if you want more news, advice, tips and help with all things Womens Wellbeing, then follow Nourished via our social media outlets, or join our Patreon membership programme (all links below).

Thanks for reading and Keep those boobs up lifted!

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