UCLan researchers prove reduction in back and shoulder pain is possible by improving breast support
Larger breasted women who suffer with back pain could see their symptoms reduced or alleviated by improving breast support, according to new research from the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).
Poor bra fit and inadequate breast support has previously been linked with chronic back, neck and shoulder pain amongst larger breasted women, and this peer-reviewed research, published in Prosthetics and Orthotics International, suggests that better bra fit may provide an accessible solution to improve symptoms.
Researchers worked with 24 larger breasted women, who were a D cup size or larger, to test one of their own garments and two new bras.
Participants, aged between 18 and 50, wore their regular bras, then were tested while wearing a brand new, professionally-fitted bra and an alternative garment from collaborating North-West company Optifit, which has a unique design, sizing, measurement and fitting approach.
The Optifit bra was created based on 3D measurements of breast height, breast volume and body frame rather than the traditional 2D measurements of over and underbust chest circumferences. This unique wire-free bra aims to provide relief with its diagonally positioned underband, which supports the breasts higher on the chest wall, and lower in the small of the back. The breast weight is transferred from the shoulders and neck into the lower back, where the muscles are stronger.
"The results could offer help to so many women around the world who struggle daily with pain caused by having large breasts"— Dr Lauren Haworth, a UCLan Senior Research Assistant
Each garment was worn for four weeks and participants performed jumping and seated typing tasks, to see if there were any immediate and short-term changes in breast support, posture and pain. Each of the three bras were also assessed in terms of fit quality.
Results showed direct links between better bra fit, increased breast support and pain reduction, with the greatest improvements in fit, support and symptoms seen with the Optifit bra.
Dr Lauren Haworth, a UCLan Senior Research Assistant, said: “This is the first study of its kind to investigate the effects of bras as potential accessible pain management strategies, and the results could offer help to so many women around the world who struggle daily with pain caused by having large breasts, and no solution to addressing poor bra fit.
“We know that between 75% and 100% of women wear the wrong-sized bra every day, with many not adjusting their straps or altering their hooks as necessary in between wears, in response to washing, wear and tear, and breast size changes throughout the menstrual cycle. Most women don’t know what correct bra fit looks or feels like, and there is a real need to educate women about the importance of bra fit.
“The persistent wearing of an ill-fitting bra can cause issues and we know many women find it challenging to find a bra that fits properly with the current bra solutions, sizing principles, and fitting approaches that are out there.
"By improving bra fit quality and altering the resting position of the breast tissue on the chest wall, a correctly fitting bra may significantly relieve symptoms of non-specific back pain among larger breasted women"— Dr Haworth
“This research shows, by improving bra fit quality and altering the resting position of the breast tissue on the chest wall, a correctly fitting bra may significantly relieve symptoms of non-specific back pain among larger breasted women. Given that the results of our study demonstrated a better ability to achieve correct bra fit in the Optifit bra, which was coupled with greater symptomatic improvement, this may be an approach for some women to consider over current high street bras.”
The study also discovered a reduction in breast support provided by the professionally-fitted bras, which were purchased from high-street retailers, after just four weeks and only a 70% success rate of bras fitting correctly even with a professional fitting.
Dr Haworth added: “Alternatives to the traditional bras could be considered by many women to help achieve correct bra fit, but equally important is the need to educate and raise awareness around the importance of bra fit.”
In collaboration with the Allied Health Research Unit academics, Dr Ambreen Chohan and collaborators enabled and led this research through the UCLan Idea Investment funding of £20,000 for businesses to work with academics and develop an evidence base to support product development and marketing.