Wearing an ill-fitting bra isn't just uncomfortable, it's bad for your health

August 15, 2018 by Joanna Wakefield-Scurr, The Conversation
Credit: Christina_summer/Shutterstock

Wearing the wrong size bra is not only uncomfortable, it can cause a range of health problems. Research has shown that a lack of breast support often leads to breast pain, which is reported by 50% of women. An ill-fitting bra that doesn't give the right support can also lead to breast skin damage – usually seen as stretch marks, caused by stretching the skin beyond its recovery point.

Ill-fitting bras have also been associated with neck, back and shoulder pain, bad posture, and rubbing and chafing leading to skin abrasions.

We also see ill-fitting bras causing permanent changes to the body, such as deep grooves in the shoulders caused by pressure from the bra shoulder straps. Ill-fitting bras have even been associated with a desire for breast reduction surgery. And with 80% of women wearing a poorly fitting bra, this is potentially a significant problem. In a study that assessed the bra fit of women wanting breast reduction surgery, all were wearing an ill-fitting bra.

The lack of support and the difficulty in finding a well-fitting bra has also been linked to a reluctance to exercise, with obvious long-term consequences.

Despite this fairly long list of health implications, millions of women continue to wear ill-fitting bras.

Forget about cup size

In 1935, Warner Brothers incorporated breast volume into bra sizing and the alphabet bra cup size system we use today was launched.

Five simple steps to good bra fit.

This original bra sizing system went up to a D cup. But since introducing this system, body sizes have changed a lot. Many women now buy a D cup bra or larger. Some bra companies use this same sizing system to make bras up to an N cup.

Bra size is difficult to measure. The accuracy of bra measurement is affected by breathing, posture and how thin you are. Researchers suggest that bra-size measurement should take place over a well-fitted, unpadded and thin bra. But most women are likely to be fitted in a shop while wearing their own bra, regardless of whether or not it fits well.

Bras produced by different manufacturers have inconsistent sizing, as there is no universal size chart or grading method. Unfortunately, bra fitters have varied experience, and there is no agreed level of competency or bra fit qualification.

The bra marketplace can be overwhelming and confusing. But, unlike shoes, breasts change size, shape and position throughout the menstrual cycle and throughout life. So women's bra size can change regularly. Despite this, there is limited guidance for women to assess their own bra fit.

Our research team works with most of the lingerie companies around the world to offer a scientific, evidence-based approach to bra development. We use 3-D scanners and biomechanical technology to understand bra fit.

Our approach to bra fitting is not to rely on the tape measure to establish bra size, but to educate women and give them the power to assess their own bra fit. We have used our 13 years of experience in breast and bra science to develop an evidence-based bra fit video to help women forget about bra size and focus on the five simple steps to a good fit.

This simple checklist could help millions of avoid bra-related health problems, and it's as simple as forgetting your ABC.

Related Stories

Recommended for you

Crunched for time? High-intensity exercise = same cell benefits in fewer minutes

September 20, 2018
A few minutes of high-intensity interval or sprinting exercise may be as effective as much longer exercise sessions in spurring beneficial improvements in mitochondrial function, according to new research. The small study ...

China's doctor shortage prompts rush for AI health care

September 20, 2018
Qu Jianguo, 64, had a futuristic medical visit in Shanghai as he put his wrist through an automated pulse-taking machine and received the result within two minutes on a mobile phone—without a doctor present.

Time to ban the sale of energy drinks to children, says senior doctor

September 19, 2018
It's time to bring in laws to ban the sale of caffeinated energy drinks to children and young people in England to tackle the twin epidemics of obesity and mental health problems, argues Professor Russell Viner, President ...

For-profit hospitals correlated with higher readmission rates

September 19, 2018
Patients who receive care in a for-profit hospital are more likely to be readmitted than those who receive care in nonprofit or public hospitals, according to a new study published by University of Illinois at Chicago researchers.

Nearly half of resident physicians report burnout

September 18, 2018
Resident physician burnout in the U.S. is widespread, with the highest rates concentrated in certain specialties, according to research from Mayo Clinic, OHSU and collaborators. The findings appear on Tuesday, Sept. 18, in ...

Sugar content of most supermarket yogurts well above recommended threshold

September 18, 2018
A comprehensive survey of ingredients in yogurts highlights high sugar levels in many—particularly organic yogurts and those marketed towards children.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.