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Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Case of the Tight Bra….Breast Health Part I

The Case of the Tight Bra….Breast Health Part I

When it comes to breast health, the biggest worry of course is breast cancer. Most research looks for an explanation in hormones, genetics and diet, but health professionals are giving the bra a second look…

Have you ever given some thought to your brassiere? Why do you wear it?
It is estimated that 2 out of 5 women suffer from breast pain and tenderness. Breast pain is a serious problem for many women. It can be very debilitating and forthright scary. Some women are so debilitated that they are unable to work because of breast pain. Breast issues other than breast cancer are very common, and sometimes a bra can aggravate it, or even cause it….

I would like to dedicate a blog to the case of the Tight Bra… It is a very common problem, and it has some serious consequences…..and most of all IT NEEDS TO GENERATE AWARENESS! : AVOID THE TIGHT BRA!

Is it habit, modesty, support or just plain sex appeal that has convinced women that wearing a bra is essential? Interestingly, bra wearing is not a necessity for most women for their breasts' sake. As we all know, wearing a bra is second nature…. Over 90% of North American women wear a bra, many without ever asking why.

A brief history of bras

In ancient history, there are mentions of a strip of cloth tied under the breasts to support and to reveal them, or strip of cloth tied around the breasts to flatten them; yet it was not until the 1500s that he corset became popular. Its main function was to lift and shape breasts upward. Other than the official corset, there is very little evidence of garments that could be considered bras Before 1900s.

The modern bra with its two separate cups was gradually developed from the corset in the early 20th century, in an attempt to manufacture a more comfortable underwear piece.

In the '70s, some women burnt their bras as a sign of liberation, now the question is about health and wellbeing… While bra fitters claim that bras stop sagging, medical experts are beginning to examine the down side of wearing a bra.

Is it a matter of COMFORT…Do you or your breasts really feel more comfortable with or without bras?

This is a hard question… “Comfort” has shapes and sizes. … Physical comfort vs. mental and psychological comfort…

Why wear a bra? Breast size and habits need to be understood. Very large and heavy-breasted women usually need to wear bras for support, as they may feel pain and discomfort if they don't wear bras. Women with small-to-medium size breasts, who wear a bra daily, may feel a little uncomfortable without it.

It is important to think about habit and other psychological issues when talking about the bra. Women may tend to feel awkward or self-conscious without bras if they are used to wearing them. In fact, when a person gets used to automatically wearing bras, it's possible to not even notice or pay any attention to the slight discomfort from bras.

Thinking about it, can you sense any discomfort and/or tightness from your bra? When you take your bra off, do you feel relief? Can you possibly even see little red marks on your skin after taking bra off? If you answer yes to these questions, your breasts may be trying to tell you something!

Let’s explore the link between wearing a bra and breast health – to prevent breast illnesses.


Breasts weren't designed by nature to be harnessed by a bra. Yet, the bra has become society’s norm. We are very good about encouraging self breast examination and mammography to screen for breast cancer, yet something as simple as generating awareness about the bra has been lacking.

Some researchers and anthropologists have tried to make a link between cultures where women don’t wear bras and have noticed that there is a lower breast cancer incidence. This is yet to be confirmed by further research, but the facts are intriguing…

A tight fitting bra, as evidenced by the bra snaps, tight shoulder straps, the pressure it creates all along the breast and under the armpit, and the marks left on the skin, is UNHEALTHY. The underwire can push on the breast tissue, and the lymph nodes. The tightness of the bra throughout the breast and into the armpit can cause constant chronic constriction and limit lymphatic drainage. Lymph nodes are little factories for white blood cell production; they're essential parts of our immune system. Lymphatic vessels go from the tissue to the lymph node, flushing the tissue of toxins, and harmful cells.

Another effect of bras on breasts is temperature. When a woman wears a bra, the temperature of the breast rises. A way of measuring the temperature of the breast is by using a heat sensitive camera (thermography). Thermography shows that a breast without a bra is cooler. The bra creates warmth in areas where there is pressure and thicker material. When the garment is removed, the areas of pressure are shown as hotter areas and a band. There is some increased heat approximately overlying the area of the seam, where of course the material has more than one thickness.

It may be that the bra is producing a heating effect on the breast resulting in the breast secreting more fluid. At the moment this is not clear, but it is possible that a cooler is a healthier breast from the point of view of producing less fluid, producing less cysts and producing less pain. A cooler breast is a healthier one. The fact that the bra can contribute to making the breast hotter could also have wider significance.

A cancer specialist in Glasgow, invented something called the Chronobra, a device that measures changes in breast temperature during the menstrual cycle. He stated that the temperature difference is a clear risk factor for breast cancer. He states that the circulation difference between a pre-cancerous breast and a normal breast is a half a degree centigrade. The pre-cancerous breast is a half a degree warmer.

The facts are clear: Some doctors do acknowledge that the bra could be a problem, and breast problems are on the rise. It is time to rethink your BRA. .

On Wearing a BRA….

There is no medical reason to wear a bra. There's no positive evidence that wearing a bra is good for the breast. As we stated earlier, a bra may be helpful for support in large breasted women. Jogging and other active sports may be painful even for medium-breasted ladies. This is, however, an individual thing, so do what is comfortable for you.

In one study, large-breasted women removed the weight of breasts from their shoulders for two weeks, either by going braless or by wearing a strapless bra. Only one woman chose a strapless bra and all the others went braless. The researchers monitored the women for muscle pain and tenderness. Seventy-nine percent of patients decided to remove breast weight from the shoulder permanently because it rendered them symptom free! (Ryan, EL, Pectoral girdle myalgia in women: a 5-year study in a clinical setting. Clin J Pain. 2000 Dec;16(4):298-303.)

Bras do give breasts support, but they DO NOT ultimately prevent your breasts from sagging. Gravity will eventually take its effect. There is actually some evidence that bras can even increase sagging. Ligaments in general can atrophy when not in use, and the same might happen to the breast ligaments under the constant artificial support from the bra, resulting in increased sagginess. IF a woman wears an ill-fitting bra, breast tissue may be forced to "migrate", and this may result in differently shaped breasts.

If you need or want to wear a bra, find one that is fitting. Be especially careful about the underwires and side panels, because if the fit is not just right, the underwire can poke into the breast tissue, and the side panels can create extra pressure and tightness. Consider getting fitted right with a professional fitter. Also, give your breasts "free time". Take your bra off whenever you can, such as at home. At the very least do not wear it to sleep.
Some women may feel immoral or indecent without a bra. While many women accentuate the sexuality of their breasts with bras, equally many or more feel that bras are sort of a necessary "modest covering" for breasts. Some women may have been made to believe that their breasts are body parts that need "tucked away" from sight; and bras become the means of doing so.

Breasts do NOT have to be considered a special sexual body part. Breasts are not immoral, obscene, or indecent in themselves.

Bras are a part of society’s unspoken rule… Everyone does it…Modern society’s dress code is a common reason for wearing bras. Yet if you would rather not wear one for whatever reason, a camisole is a good alternative. There are many healthy alternatives for dressing bra-free.

Bras to protect and support during sports… Sports bras can be extremely helpful in reducing breast bouncing while running or doing other types of active sports. In fact, the bouncing during jogging, for example, can actually damage the ligaments inside the breasts. Slight movement of breasts is probably just helpful, because movement of breasts aids the lymph flow. You need to judge the situation based on the type of activity. If you suffer with a sweat rash under the breasts, one idea is to apply a good medicated body powder after you have washed every day.

Bras may help with giving the appearance of larger breast size…Some women may be self-conscious about the size of their breasts. Bras with padding may help in this case.

Bras for breastfeeding… Wearing a nursing bra is helpful when breastfeeding… However be careful because wearing a tight nursing bra may cause breast engorgement and /or sore breasts.

To Wear or not to wear a BRA

The choice to wear or not to wear a bra is yours. Many women are very used to wearing bras, and feel uncomfortable in public without them. Social occasions may require you to wear one.

The most important issue is not about wearing a bra or not, it is extremely important to make sure you are wearing the RIGHT ONE. Bra wearing is not going to kill you (or your breasts). Remember to always wear a good fitting bra. It should not leave marks on your shoulders or under your breasts or feel tight. Give your breasts as much free time as possible - at home, and while sleeping.

Bras and your Health

Bras have become the essential female garment. At the same time, breast problems have been increasing. At least two out of five women suffer from pains in their breasts - some also suffer from cysts.

Bra Wearing and Breast Pain- The British study

In year 2000, two British breast surgeons, Dr. Mansel and Dr. Cawthorn started a study including 100 women all of whom had breast pain at two breast clinics and found that over half of the premenopausal women with pain found relief when they quit wearing bras for three months. They also found that the number of totally pain-free days went up by 7% which is regarded as significant for a problem that is otherwise so hard to treat. When the women resumed bra wearing for the last three months of the study, the pain returned. Besides the pain data, the doctors also showed video thermography footage that dramatically demonstrated the heat build-up from bra wearing, and they discussed the possible connections with cancer causation. This research caused such awareness, that further investigation is being done to study the links between bra wearing and breast pain and cysts.

It is important to note that the British study had a significant effect on pre-menopausal women with breast pain. Post-menopausal women did not benefit as much from not wearing a bra.

Bra Wearing and Breast Cancer

In a study done by Sidney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer, women who wore a bra 24 hours a day had a 113-fold increase in breast cancer incidence compared to women who wore bra less than 12 hours daily. They suggest that bras exert enough pressure to the breast and surrounding areas to inhibit the flow of lymph, which then causes toxins and other waste material to remain in the breasts instead of being flushed out.

Several other studies have shown a link between breast pain and breast cancer. For example, French researchers at the University of Paris Necker Hospital have found that women with monthly breast pain have double the risk of getting breast cancer. They ascertained that statistically, pain can be as significant a risk factor as a family history of cancer.

Now, this effect may be due to the fact that most women just wear the wrong size bra that is too tight somewhere. No one has done any studies investigating the link between breast cancer and how well the woman's bra fits. Either way, for your breast health's sake it is better to avoid a poorly fitting bra.


Approximately 60 or 70 % of women will experience breast pain in their lifetime yet there has been little research into the causes of breast pain. Breast pain can be a debilitating illness - and there is no treatment. Some women who suffer from breast pain also have cysts. The causes have been thought to be related to hormonal shifts and imbalance, genetics and certain foods. Bras are also among the cause of breast pain.

There are several theories as to why bras may cause breast pain. The fact that bras heat the breast is one theory, while the compression of channels leading from the breast to the lymph nodes through the structure of the bra is another. More research needs to be done into this area.
Breast cysts can be very painful and may be due to impaired lymphatic drainage. They are scary and invariably the risk of breast cancer needs to be addressed in the setting of breast cysts.


In the name of fashion, breasts have been pushed into all different shapes and sizes - but for women living with breast pain, it's no joke. In our next blog we will talk specifically about the different health issues that may affect the breasts and other things we can do about it. Thank you for reading...

Margarita R. Ochoa-Maya, MD


  1. Another fantastic article, thank you Doctor. I can't compare myself to the average women as I have had breast surgery due to a tumor and reconstructive surgery, but I will tell you this, if I don't need to wear a bra I don't and I never wear one at home unless someone comes over, even then half the time I will just grab another shirt and throw it over. At the gym though, I definitely need to feel the support of staying in place, but I prefer a gym type support bra then a basic bra with wires and straps. If I was smaller breasted I would never wear one.

    Thank you for this blog and I look forward to your next informative article.

  2. I don't have breast pain but I do have pain on my sides under the arm pits. I got larger bra's but I still have some pain. Does it take awhile for it to go away?

  3. Very interesting and informative article, thank you. My mother is very small and has always worn a bra and of course I've been wearing bras since I was twelve; I was the same size as my mother. I am now in my mid fifties and my shoulders have an indentation from the weight of my breasts. I never realized all the other problems an ill-fitting bra can cause. I am also now in menopause and sometimes feel breast tenderness. Can't wait to read more information on this subject. I look forward to reading more of your blogs.

  4. Try these Bra Extenders :

  5. wow great info about health. let me know how to get rid off breast pain. i used bali minimizer bras it is suitable for me or not ?

  6. Why Females go through from Breast Pain for more information

    Correct bra size – Irregardless of bra size, age or health, a lot of women endure breast pain or uncomfortableness during daily life and exercise because their breasts are not correctly helped, reported a University of Wollongong instructional. When...