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Dr. James D. Namnoum | Board Certified Plastic and Reconstructive Surgeon

8 Consequences of Wearing the Wrong Size Bra

An animated chart illustrating 13 different bra styles in black and white on a pink background.

A chiropractic and osteopathy study found that 80% of women wear the incorrect bra size, with 70% of women wearing ones that are too small and 10% wearing ones that are too big.

That statistic may not come as a surprise though, as finding the right bra size can be difficult. The pain of underwire sitting too tightly on the rib cage or the abrasions left by a strap digging into the skin can be all too familiar. Wearing a bra that is too small, too big, too old, or too stretched out is not an enjoyable experience.

While no research seems to suggest that wearing the incorrect bra size can cause dire consequences to your health, plenty of sources cite pain and discomfort. Fortunately, there’s a correct bra size for everybody — you just need to be fitted for it.

1.Breast Pain

One of the first things you may notice from wearing the wrong size bra is breast pain. Complaints are more typical of people with larger breast cup sizes, who exercise infrequently, or who are premenopausal.

There are many ways in which the wrong size bra can contribute to breast pain. If your bra is too small, it can dig into your breasts — if it is too big, your breasts may have too much room and can become prone to bouncing around, contributing to tenderness. Lastly, if you suffer from breast asymmetry or other abnormalities, it may feel like every bra is the wrong size. For this reason, you may consider congenital breast asymmetry surgery or breast augmentation.

Of course, there can be other causes of breast pain, including pregnancy, breastfeeding, menstruation, and exercise — so make sure to rule out other causes before determining that the pain is from your bra.

2.Back Pain

While research on the correlation between ill-fitting bras and back pain is often inconclusive or conflicting, there are some studies suggesting a link. Moreover, a large percentage of women wear the wrong size bra, especially women with larger breasts. Research is clear that bigger breasts cause back pain — or at the very least, exacerbates existing pain.

Improper breast support may directly or indirectly contribute to back pain. Either way, try to prioritize finding the right size bra. The volume of your bra cup should correspond with the volume of your breasts. Ensure your bra fits correctly by having a professional fit you for it. A well-fitted bra may be a good option if back pain is persistent.

3.Shoulder and Neck Pain

Women with larger breasts may also experience shoulder and neck pain. Bras designed for larger breasts often come with larger straps in order to disperse weight and provide more support. These wide straps, however, can cause shoulder pain which can then contribute to neck pain as well.

Sometimes even a properly fitted bra can’t fix shoulder and neck pain though — or other pains for that matter. If you’ve been fitted for a bra, but still experience these symptoms, it may be time to talk to your doctor.

Research shows that breast reduction improves symptoms of macromastia. You may be a good candidate for breast reduction surgery if you are at a healthy weight, but are otherwise experiencing adverse symptoms such as shoulder and neck pain, back pain, or breast pain.

4.Skin Abrasions and Chafing

A bra that is too tight can easily cause skin abrasions and chafing from the constant rubbing against your skin. You may see red lines anywhere the bra falls, including your overbust, underbust, back, or shoulders.

Besides correcting your bra size, you may also find that using a strap extender or finding a different bra material or texture helps. For sports bras, chafing may be widespread and require you to find a different style bra.

5.Rib Cage Pain

Bras sit right on top of your rib cage. When you’re wearing one that is too tight, it can feel constricting and may even contribute to pain. You are also likely to see skin abrasions and chafing.

Underwire bras are typically the number one culprit for pain associated with the rib cage. While no research seems to suggest that this will cause any actual damage to the area, if you’re experiencing discomfort it may be worth it to look into other styles of bras.

6.Premature Sagging

Bras are designed to lift up your breasts and provide support, but if you’re wearing the incorrect size, they may do exactly the opposite. One that is too big, for instance, may leave too much room for your breasts instead of providing the support they need.

Avoid premature sagging by getting professionally fitted for a bra.

7.Bad Posture

Several of the pains mentioned — breast, back, shoulder, and neck pain — may result in bad posture. The pain can make a person hunch forward in an effort to alleviate it. Bad posture may actually exacerbate back, shoulder, or neck pain, creating a vicious cycle.

8.General Discomfort and Embarrassment

Last but not least, an ill-fitted bra might simply make you feel uncomfortable and embarrassed. Your breasts could end up spilling out of your bra, causing your clothing to fit awkwardly. Bra straps may be digging into your skin contributing to pain or sliding off your shoulders, prompting you to constantly pull them back up.

Mothers may be particularly concerned about the general discomfort and embarrassment of an ill-fitted bra. While it takes time to heal after giving birth, some changes to the body are more permanent. A customizable mommy makeover may be a more preferred solution than finding a new bra alone.

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