The Link Between...Large Breasts And Back Pain
When Gravity Fights Against You - And What To Do About It...
It is an unfortunate fact that large breasts and back pain are heavily linked. Does having large breasts automatically mean you will have back pain? Is it avoidable back pain? What are your options for greater comfort and freedom from back pain?
We look at the effect of having ‘large’ breasts on your back and ask at what point can large mean painful as well as looking at what can be done to mitigate the pain.
The Short Answer –
- Back pain and large breasts are frequently observed together. This is principally for three reasons –
the weight of your breasts can pull/ strain the muscles in your back,
- The uncomfortable ‘bounce’ can put you off exercising causing muscle wastage around your spine
- The downward force of your breasts can cause you to unconsciously adopt a poor posture.
But it doesn’t always have to be like this. There are better solutions now in 2020.
Back pain can affect anyone, and especially if you are a women. It is now statistically accepted that women are in fact more likely to suffer with back pain than men.
The thinking used to be that this only happened after going through the menopause, but differences have now been observed at all ages.
According to a review in the Journal of Quantitative Imaging In Medicine And Surgery (2016),
“female sex homones play an important role in etiology and pathophysiology of a variety of musculoskeletal diseases”.
However, hormones can have something of a double whammy effect with for back pain – not only can they contribute to a weakening of core strength, but oestrogen and progesterone are a huge contributor to large breasts in the 1st place.
On a superficial level, this can be seen as highly desirable, but is not without some downsides.
The Pain Of Larger Breasts
Some commentators have argued that there is limited evidence to conclusively say whether back pain and large breasts are connected at all.
Certainly, it can be difficult to distinguish one single factor behind a persons back pain.
Some of the other ‘factors’ that can occur alongside large breasts to make the definite connection less clear included-
- Wearing a bra that doesn’t offer support
- Pinched nerves
- General obesity
- Conditions such as early stage osteoarthritis
These can all also cause both lower and upper back pain, leading to a clouding over exactly what causes your back pain.
Indeed a study in ‘Chiropractic & Manual Therapies’ specifically into upper back pain, found a clear link between pain and breast size.
It did also note a number of other potentially contributory factors similar to those mentioned above.
But back pain isn’t the only downside with large breasts as they can contribute to both shoulder and neck pain too.
And perhaps even more common than back pain is the all-too-familiar cutting of a poorly designed into your shoulders.
Often this pain is so bad that wearing a bra becomes an event for specific occasions only.
But having large breasts unsupported then leads to further issues with back pain. It really is a difficult situation.
How Large Breasts Cause Back Pain
In truth, the effect of large breasts on back pain is three folded…
- The sheer weight of them can cause back muscles and ligaments, especially if the pain of cutting straps reduces the time you wear a bra (as the extra movement can cause additional strains)
- They can also lead to a poor posture being adopted, which in turns leads to considerable back pain.
- Large breasts can cause avoidance of physical activity which would otherwise strengthen your back and can instead lead to muscle wastage.
The question of whether posture is affected by breast size is something that is contested by some healthcare websites, but in truth the clinical evidence is fairly clear.
In 2007, a study on 100 women for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery concluded that…
“Breast size seems to be an important factor that affects posture”
Then in 2013, a study by Goulart concluded that breast reduction surgery…
“an improvement in body posture, primarily in the alignment of shoulders, trunk and pelvis, and a decrease in pain in the upper limbs and spine, were observed.”
These (and several other studies) leave me happy to conclude that, despite some claims, posture is indeed adversely affected by breast size.
Given that we know poor posture = increased back pain, it is reasonable to conclude poor posture is the 2nd reason why large breasts cause back pain.
How Big Is Too Big?
Unfortunately, this is an almost impossible question. One well-quoted study in The International Journal of Clothing Science and Technology lists the ‘average professionally fitted bra size’ as DD.
However, what size is likely to start causing you pain relies on just too many variables to say for sure.
You natural strength, general build, BMI, lifestyle and bra will all have an impact.
Not only that, but your breast size changes as you go through life and so may your level of back pain, but not necessarily in connection.
The Myth Of Poorly Fitted Bras.
There is a big difference between poorly fitted bras and bras that offer poor support.
Poorly fitted bras may lead to straps cutting into your shoulders/ back, or being too loose – but they won’t directly affect your back pain.
Many non-clinical ‘experts’ like to claim poorly fitted bras create back pain, but in isolation, poorly fitted bras are not a factor.
That is not to say that they cant indirectly lead to back pain however. As Wood et al concluded in Chiropractic & Osteopathy,
“Although bra fit appears unrelated to pain, if a bra is poorly fitted, bra function (eg: breast support, reduction of breast bounce) may be compromised.”
A poorly fitted bra wont reduce bounce and provide good support.
But the same is even more true for the style of bra you choose.
Wearing a basic style of bra that offers little or no support for your chest or your back will have an even more dramatic impact.
Your breast will fluctuate slightly during your monthly cycle and will change naturally as you age, so it will probably never be the absolutely ‘perfect’ fit for long.
Pick a poorly designed bra however and the fit becomes irrelevant – all of those factors (posture/ support/ cutting straps/ bounce etc) will come back to cause you pain.
Large Breasts And Back Pain – Finding A Solution
If you suffer with back pain and you believe your breast size is a factor, then you have 3 basic options
- Breast reduction surgery
- Back strengthening workouts
- Different Bra design
Breast Reduction Surgery
This is of course the most dramatic option. Reducing the size of your breasts through surgery however will, in the vast majority of cases, ease your back pain.
This has been proven in numerous studies including the Goulart et al study in 2013.
Back Strengthening Workouts
This is a little bit of a chicken and egg (which came first) scenario – because while there are a range of exercises that can help by building muscles in your shoulders and back, you may not feel up to it if you are suffering with back pain.
Furthermore the gains that you do make can take many months to achieve with the risk of injury if you push yourself too hard too soon.
The correct type of exercises for this would be a whole range of weight lifting exercises. Aerobic activities, particularly those involving ‘bouncing’ are likely to only make your back pain worse.
Different Bra Design
As with most businesses, Bra manufacturers are constantly looking for competitive edges.
And as a result, very recently some bra’s have started being designed specifically with back pain in mind.
To achieve this, they need to reduce bounce as much as possible, since this causes strain to the back/ shoulders.
In answer they came up with better under-breast support that linked the bra cup to a more stable base.
Then they needed to reduce cutting in to the shoulders, which could be achieved by wider straps with interwoven straps that wont fold inwards.
Then came back support and, although a bra can never reduce the weight of your breasts, it can spread that weight better by providing cross-lined spinal padding.
Finally, use of more breathable material reduced sweating and all the problems that that can bring (ulceration etc).
About half way through this evolution came the concept of a sports bra – holding your breasts tight and eliminating bounce. As technology has increased still further, we now have the specialist bra for back pain.
Now, being a man, I can’t pretend to have worn such a bra – but being a pain specialist I do have a unique insight into the science behind how one should be made.
I can also spot those that sell themselves as being back friendly without any real design features that would make them so.
My wife also has back pain for the same reason, so to some extent, I have tested various bra theories out on her. She has added her practical experience to the science and patient-led knowledge of myself.
I discuss in much more detail what makes the best bra for back pain in my other article, together with detailed recommendations.
The Final Word –
Unfortunately, there is a direct relationship between large breasts and back pain. The ultimate answer is not to have large breasts at all and surgery is the option for achieving this.
However, for many reasons, that simply is not realistic or necessarily desirable. The other options then are months of weight training in the gym (or at home), focused on conditioning your core and back.
The 3rd, and perhaps quickest, improvement lies in making sure you wear a properly supportive bra – not just one that claims to be effective, to a bra that offers all the pain reducing features we listed above.
Achieve this and back pain from having large breasts can be greatly reduced if not ceased altogether.
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References Used –
1. Yì Xiáng J. Wáng, Jùn-Qīng Wáng, Zoltán Káplár (2016). Increased low back pain prevalence in females than in males after menopause age: evidences based on synthetic literature review. Quantitative Imaging In Medicine And Surgery
2. Linda Spencer and Kathy Briffa (2013). Breast size, thoracic kyphosis & thoracic spine pain – association & relevance of bra fitting in post-menopausal women: a correlational study. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies.
3. Kemal Findikcioglu, Fulya Findikcioglu, Selahattin Ozmen, Tuba Guclu. (2007) The Impact of Breast Size on the Vertebral Column: A Radiologic Study. Aesthetic Plastic Surgery
4. Remi Goulart, Jr, MD, Daniele Detanico, MSc, Roberta Pires Vasconcellos, MSc, Gustavo Ricardo Schütz, MSc, and Saray Giovana dos Santos, PhD. (2013). Reduction mammoplasty improves body posture and decreases the perception of pain. Plastic Surgery.
5. Deirdre E. McGhee, Julie R. Steele. (Oct 2011). Breast volume and bra size. International Journal Of Clothing Science And Technology.
6. Katherine Wood, Melainie Cameron and Kylie Fitzgerald. (2008). Breast size, bra fit and thoracic pain in young women: a correlational study. Chiropractic & Osteopathy.
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