Headaches, painful joints, constant pins and needles and even tummy troubles… is your bra making you ill?

  • Research shows that 76 per cent of us are wearing the wrong size bra 
  • The majority of women surveyed said they had never been fitted for a bra
  • Experts say that bad buying habits can have serious health consequences

Do you suffer from sore shoulders, a stiff neck or perhaps frequent headaches? Maybe upper , indigestion or is the bane of your life?

If any of these ailments sounds all too familiar, you may be surprised to hear that the source of your niggling health problems and discomfort could be your bra.

According to recent research by bra manufacturer Triumph, 76 per cent of us are wearing the wrong size bra, despite being inundated with reminders from the clothing industry to get measured.

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Research by bra manufacturer Triumph has found that 76 per cent of us are wearing the wrong size bra (picture posed by model)

Research by bra manufacturer Triumph has found that 76 per cent of us are wearing the wrong size bra (picture posed by model)

The majority of women they surveyed said they had never been fitted for a bra. Others admitted they had bought the wrong size because they wanted a particular style or colour and their size was out of .

Some even deliberately bought bras in the wrong size in the hope it would boost or minimise their cleavage. But this habit can have some serious health consequences, say experts.

From straps that slice into your shoulders to loose bra cups, Life & Style examines the surprising health problems of a badly fitted bra . . .

TOO SMALL

Physiotherapist Sammy Margo, spokesperson for the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy, says: ‘I often find a direct link between my female patients’ back, neck and postural problems — and their bras.

‘If a bra is too tight, it can create pressure on the nerves, muscles and blood vessels around the shoulders, upper back and rib cage, leading to pain, headaches, and even constant pins and needles in the arms.’

Wearing a bra that is too small for you can often cause pressure on the nerves, muscles and blood vessels resulting in pain, headaches and even constant pins and needles (picture posed by model) 

Wearing a bra that is too small for you can often cause pressure on the nerves, muscles and blood vessels resulting in pain, headaches and even constant pins and needles (picture posed by model)

Even more seriously, over time, too tight bra straps worn day in and day out can to squash the acromioclavicular joint — which is at the top of the shoulder — affecting its range of movement and the function of the arm, along with constant pain.

Several studies have also concluded that bras that are too tight can cause lumps or lesions on the skin. These are caused by the hooks on the back of bras digging into the skin.

TOO BIG

But if you thought it was just too small bras that you have to worry about, think again. Bras that are too loose and cups that are too roomy can cause just as many problems.

‘Wearing a bra that doesn’t support the breasts efficiently can lead to postural problems, such as rounded or hunched shoulders, as the woman will naturally sit and stand awkwardly to compensate for her unsupportive, ill-fitting bra,’ says Sammy Margo.

‘If your cup size is a C or larger, the problems with wearing a loose, unsupportive bra can be even worse.

‘Wearing a bra that doesn’t support the breasts efficiently can lead to postural problems, such as rounded or hunched shoulders' says physiotherapist Sammy Margo (picture posed by model)

‘Wearing a bra that doesn’t support the breasts efficiently can lead to postural problems, such as rounded or hunched shoulders’ says physiotherapist Sammy Margo (picture posed by model)

‘Larger, poorly supported breasts will sit on the rib cage, putting pressure on the diaphragm, which can cause you breathing problems.

‘The weight of the breasts combined with poor posture and a sedentary lifestyle can even exacerbate digestive problems, such as heartburn and IBS.’

Consultant and breast specialist Ash Mosahebi, a spokesperson for the British Association of Aesthetic Plastic Surgeons (BAAPS), says: ‘Breasts don’t phentermine contain any muscle. They are made up of fat, glands and milk ducts, and are held in position by skin and a network of fine ligaments and connective tissue.

‘If you persistently wear a bra that is the wrong size and doesn’t support the breasts correctly, gravity, pregnancy, hormone and weight fluctuations and even exercise can stretch the skin, structure and supportive ligaments of the breasts more than usual.

‘The danger is that this can wreak havoc on the size, shape and appearance of your breasts.’

SUCH BAD HEADACHES I CONSIDERED SURGERY

Amanda Reed-Raja, 38, from Manchester (pictured) suffered severe neck and shoulder pain

Amanda Reed-Raja, 38, from Manchester (pictured) suffered severe neck and shoulder pain

‘I was considering — until I found the right bra,’ says solicitor and mother of one, Amanda Reed-Raja, 38, from Manchester, who suffered excruciating neck and shoulder pain.

‘I have a small frame — I’m only 4ft 11in — a narrow back and a large, 30GG bust. Despite spending a small fortune on bras, I could never find one that supported me.

‘Bra straps would dig into my back, causing neck and shoulder pain — and often a splitting headache. And my breasts would feel incredibly sore just before my period.

‘It was only when I discovered Optifit bras that things changed. Specially constructed for larger busts, the bras are fitted using a 3D measuring system that takes into consideration your body frame and breast projection.

‘The first time I put one on I felt immediately taller, with my shoulders back. To my surprise, with my bust elevated away from my diaphragm, I was also able to breathe more deeply.

‘I no longer suffer from aches and pains in my shoulders and neck. I can wear what I like and run around after my three-year-old son without feeling self- conscious about my bust.’ 

TIGHT BRA STRAPS

If a bra feels loose or unsupportive, many women will simply tighten the shoulder straps — often with painful results.

‘The most common misconception of all about bras is that the straps are there to hold up our breasts,’ says Marks & Spencer’s top bra fitting expert, Julia Mercer.

‘Very few women realise that they are actually the least important part of the bra.

Nearly all the support in a bra should come from the band around the rib cage and the straps are just there to hold everything else in place (picture posed by model)

Nearly all the support in a bra should come from the band around the rib cage and the straps are just there to hold everything else in place (picture posed by model)

‘In fact, nearly all the support a bra offers should come from the band that runs around the rib cage and the bra cups.

‘The straps are just there to hold everything else in position.’

Tight straps can place enormous pressure on the shoulders, cutting into the flesh and pulling the shoulders and spine forward, causing pressure on nerves and even affecting shoulder flexibility. Cervicogenic headaches — headaches linked to the neck muscles and joints — are common, too.

And women who constantly wear tight bra straps may also develop a permanent, unsightly groove in each shoulder.

ILL-FITTING UNDERWIRING

Underwires that dig into your skin or chafe can rub skin raw and even compromise delicate breast implants and recent breast surgery, says Ash Mosahebi.

‘Underwiring can dig into the ribs, too, causing discomfort and bruising,’ adds Sammy Margo.

Underwires should sit firmly on the rib cage at the front and sides, cupping the breasts.

They should NOT sit on or dig into your breast tissue.

To check your underwires are the correct size for you, put the bra on and press on the wires.

If they spring back, they are sitting on the breast tissue and you need a bigger cup size.

Never continue wearing a bra in which the underwire has started to work free as these are sharp and can easily cut you.

I WAS A BORN SLOUCHER, NOW I STAND UP STRAIGHT

Gina Hutchings, 32, from Bedford (pictured) says it took her years to find the right bra

Gina Hutchings, 32, from Bedford (pictured) says it took her years to find the right bra

‘It took me years to find the right bra,’ says Gina Hutchings, 32, from Bedford.

‘When I started wearing a bra, in my teens, I was too embarrassed to get fitted properly. I would just walk into a shop and choose something pretty.

‘Not only did those lovely looking bras look terrible under clothes — the cups were usually too small, which gave the impression I had four breasts rather than two.

‘I would also get sore patches where the bra band was loose and rubbed my breasts raw.

‘I’m a natural sloucher, so it was only when someone mentioned that a properly fitted bra might improve my posture that I went for my first fitting.

‘I’ve established that a 32C is the best size for me. My bust size fluctuates with my monthly cycle, and this bra seems to accommodate any changes in my size and shape — and I’m standing up straight now.

‘I don’t allow myself to be swayed by looks these days. I’ve established that a balconette bra gives me the best shape.

‘They may not look particularly glamorous, but they are really comfortable to wear.’

THE WRONG SHAPE

Different styles of bra flatter and give more support to various silhouettes, according to Julia Mercer. Choosing the right one can only help with self-confidence, comfort and fighting the damage that gravity can cause.

If you have broad shoulders and a gap between your breasts, a balconette bra — one that lifts the breasts upwards from underneath — will be best.

If you have narrow shoulders and very little gap between your breasts, a plunge bra — one that pushes the breasts together — is a better option.

If you have narrow shoulders and very little gap between your breasts, a plunge bra will be a better option (picture posed by model)

If you have narrow shoulders and very little gap between your breasts, a plunge bra will be a better option (picture posed by model)

Very large, heavy breasts will benefit from the firm support of bras with multi-part cups — made from two or more pieces of fabric seamed together.

Padded bras are great for giving women with small breasts a bit of ‘va-va-voom’ — and, if the pads are removable, can be really helpful for balancing uneven breast sizes.

Don’t be tempted to wear a firm-fitting sports bra constantly— it can cause breathing problems if worn when you are not exercising.

These are designed to hold the breasts in place during a gym class or while jogging, but should not be over-used because they are much more constrictive than ordinary bras.

GOING WITHOUT A SPORTS BRA

Research from the University of Portsmouth suggests breasts move an astonishing average of 10cm to 15cm in three or more directions when we exercise, so a supportive sports bra is a must if you want to avoid breast pain.

There are various types of sports bra: some compress the breasts closer to the chest to stop them moving, which are great if you have a larger bust; others that lift, separate and hold the breasts firmly in position are more suited to smaller busts.

There are various different types of sports bra to suit everyone's shape and size, but don't forget that sports bras will also loose their elasticity over time (picture posed by model) 

There are various different types of sports bra to suit everyone’s shape and size, but don’t forget that sports bras will also loose their elasticity over time (picture posed by model)

To find the right sports bra for you, Professor Joanna Scurr at the University’s research group in breast health suggests trying on several, then jumping up and down and stretching to see which bra offers the best support.

Don’t forget that sports bras — as with all bras — will lose their elasticity over time.

TIPS TO FIND THE PERFECT FIT

The best advice is to get fitted professionally with a bra that works with your physique.Thanks to weight gain and loss, hormonal fluctuations and pregnancy, a woman can wear up to six bra sizes throughout her life — so experts suggest checking your bra size every year.

Most lingerie retailers offer free measuring services.

Julia Mercer, bra fit expert for Marks & Spencer, offers her top tips to buying bras:

The underband — the stretchy fabric that runs under your breasts and around your rib cage — is the most important part of the bra, as it supplies 80 per cent of the support for your breasts.

Check the underband fits firmly around your chest on the loosest row of hooks. It should not slide around as you move, nor should it pinch or affect your breathing.

You should be able to get two fingers under the band. You can check if it’s a good fit by sliding off the shoulder straps once you have the bra on. The underband and cups should stay in position and continue to support the breasts.

The front section of the bra, between your breasts, should not gape, but sit flat on the chest.

To check you have the right cup size, stand side on to a mirror. Your breasts should not be hanging over the top or sides of the cups, or escaping underneath.

The straps are the least important support element in the bra. They should not dig into your shoulders. If you have to tighten the straps to support your breasts, the underband is too loose and you need a smaller bra.

Step by step guide to fitting yourself for a bra

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