Search IconSearch

Can You Blame a Poorly Fitted Bra for Your Back Pain?

4 myths and simple solutions

Woman with upper back pain

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.


Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

She gives expert insight on four misplaced brassiere beliefs ― and offers some simple solutions to women with back pain.

Myth 1: The right bra can improve your posture

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 prevent back pain or improve a woman’s posture,” Dr. Venesy says. “The benefits of wearing a bra are largely cosmetic,” she adds.

Myth 2: An improperly fitted bra causes back pain

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.”

Myth 3: Exercise can’t help pain caused by breast size

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:

  • Take a yoga or Pilates class.
  • Do stretching and back-strengthening exercises several times each week.
  • Practice good posture.
  • Make sure you get enough calcium and vitamin D.
  • Talk to your doctor about the issue.
  • Avoid sitting for long periods of time at a desk, get up and move.
  • Use a lumbar roll in desk chair.
  • Try a standing desk at work.

Myth 4: Smoking has no relationship to back pain

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.


Learn more about our editorial process.

Related Articles

Female holding hair up at neck, eyes closed, fanning herself with piece of paper
July 9, 2024/Women's Health
Hot Flashes, Anxiety and Menopause: What’s the Connection?

You may be more prone to hot flashes if you have anxiety, but hot flashes can also rev up anxiety

Healthcare provider holding packet of birth control pills
May 3, 2024/Women's Health
What Happens When You Skip a Birth Control Pill?

The scenarios vary based on how many pills you’ve missed and whether you take a combination pill or progestin-only pill

Hand holding packet of birth control pills in front of feet on a scale
April 23, 2024/Women's Health
Birth Control and Weight Gain: What the Science Says

Despite popular opinion, scientific research shows that most birth control methods don’t contribute to weight gain

Person on scale, questioning muscle weight vs. fat weight
April 12, 2024/Exercise & Fitness
The Difference Between Muscle Weight vs. Fat Weight

Both are needed for a healthy body

Healthcare provider holding prescription bottle talking with older female
April 12, 2024/Women's Health
What Does a Hot Flash Feel Like?

Heat starts in your chest and moves up to your neck and face … and then, the sweating begins

Female sitting in chair with hot waves coming off their head
April 9, 2024/Women's Health
8 Myths and Truths About Menopausal Hot Flashes

While they may not burn calories or cause fevers, these heat waves can make you miserable — but you don’t have to just grin and bear it!

Plate full of colorful and healthy fruits, veggies and grains
April 8, 2024/Women's Health
6 Ways To Boost Breast Health

Taking precautions like eating healthy, stopping smoking and getting regular screenings can help protect against breast cancer

Female awake in bed at night
April 5, 2024/Women's Health
What To Expect in Each Stage of Menopause

It’s a natural part of aging, starting with perimenopause and eventually leading into postmenopause

Trending Topics

Female and friend jogging outside
How To Increase Your Metabolism for Weight Loss

Focus on your body’s metabolic set point by eating healthy foods, making exercise a part of your routine and reducing stress

stovetop with stainless steel cookware and glassware
5 Ways Forever Chemicals (PFAS) May Affect Your Health

PFAS chemicals may make life easier — but they aren’t always so easy on the human body

jar of rice water and brush, with rice scattered around table
Could Rice Water Be the Secret To Healthier Hair?

While there’s little risk in trying this hair care treatment, there isn’t much science to back up the claims