Most women would agree that the right bra can provide more than a few benefits. However, there are enduring myths about the power of the right bra, says Deborah Venesy, MD, a physical medicine & rehabilitation specialist and medical spine specialist at Cleveland Clinic.
She gives expert insight on four misplaced brassiere beliefs – and offers some simple solutions to women with back pain.
One of the most common myths is the idea that the right bra can actually improve your posture or prevent back pain.
“In my clinical experience, wearing a bra does not help prevent back pain or improve a woman’s posture,” Dr. Venesy says. “The benefits of wearing a bra are largely cosmetic,” she adds.
Many women who are well-endowed — or who have what clinicians call breast hypertrophy—suffer back and neck pain because of the weight of their breast tissue. Some women also find painful indentations and even scarring along their shoulders where their bra straps dig into their skin.
Compression of the nerves along the shoulders can even cause numbness and tingling in the fingers. Arguments for going “bra-less” for these reasons have caused a stir.
But despite the pain that bra straps can cause for large-breasted women, Dr. Venesy doesn’t believe bras in themselves—even improperly fitted ones—can actually cause back pain any more than they can prevent it.
“I don’t think a poorly fitting bra actually causes back pain,” she says, “although some of our patients with breast hypertrophy elect to have breast reduction to manage upper and lower back pain if they have tried physical therapy with no success.”
To manage back pain, including pain caused by large breasts, Dr. Venesy recommends working to strengthen the core muscles in the abdomen and back.
“We emphasize core strength, cardio exercise and stretching,” she says. “Especially for upper back pain, work on improving core strength and the strength of the muscles between the shoulder blades.”
Dr. Venesy recommends the following to build these muscle groups and ease pain:
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Another way to ease back pain might be unexpected: Quit smoking. There are so many other health reasons to quit smoking, including that it may ease an aching back. Researchers at the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Helsinki, Finland, conducted an analysis of 121 studies and found a modest connection between low back pain and smoking.
Smokers also are more likely to have intervertebral disc degeneration, where the spinal discs become less effective at absorbing shock, causing pain along the spinal column.
Your bra isn’t causing your back pain, and it can’t prevent back pain, either. To keep back pain at bay, build the muscles in your core and between your shoulder blades with Pilates and yoga.