Women often have a changing relationship with our breasts. They can be linked to neck and back pain, stop us from doing exercise, and as we get older are often thought of negatively – by ourselves.  A 2014 study on 45-65 year olds found that only 7% were happy with our breasts.  As Deepak Chopra says, our brain is always listening in to our thoughts so ultimately if we think negatively towards them at the very least it will not be adding to our feeling of happiness.  I am not suggesting we look at them daily and tell them they’re great (feel free to do so) but there are some important things we need to think about, linked also to our overall wellness.

Why the changes?

The changes are linked to our hormones and lifestyle.  As we get older & the oestrogen drops, in the same way as weight can redistribute to our bellies it can also land on our breasts.  Our coopers ligaments (not actually ligaments at all) become stretched hence the positioning can change.  Plus our muscle mass decreases and if we don’t update our nutrition habits or our movement styles we can gain more weight.  They can also become more fibrous and more sensitive linked to relative oestrogen dominance and hormone balance.

Why is this a problem?

If we don’t have either intrinsic (musculaskeletal) or extrinsic (the right bra) support this can result in back and neck pain, forward flexion of the thoracic spine and internal rotation of shoulders (a hunched position) – all true regardless of age.  This can affect our lung expansion, heart function, cause difficulty breathing, and sometimes leads to avoiding exercise as it’s too uncomfortable which links to a whole host of other physical and mental issues.   The 2013 Study (Spencer et al) found that increasing breast size and how a bra is worn may have biomechanical implication for the loaded thoracic spine and surrounding musculature.  Plus the wrong size bra can mean pressure on lymph nodes used to fight infection, and other pressure points linked to headaches.  If the wire is digging into your flesh this is not the right size.  Also post menopausal women were found to be much more likely to suffer from accentuated kyphosis (rounding of the shoulders) than men due to loss of elasticity in back extensor, strength and concurrent collapse of vertebral bodies resulting from low bone mineral density.   

Finally studies have found your posture affects your mood & mental health. A 2017 study found that when you’re upright it is much easier to remember positive memories, whilst when slouched the negative memories kick in.  Also Pepper et al found in 2017 that adapting an upright posture increases positive affect, reduces fatigue, and increases energy in people with mild to moderate depression.

What to do?

First and foremost, from a matter of breast health Check your Breasts.  I do not do this enough, and I need to.  See www.knowyourlemons.com for more information but when you next have a shower please try and remember.

Secondly – back exercises.  Two thirds of the breast sits on the pec but the pecs do not support them.  Instead your back muscles strength are key, the ones you use to extend and bring your shoulders back.    Forward flexion (hunching) of the shoulders and back results in sore backs and will affect your breathing (try breathing with rounded shoulders, and then with shoulders back).  A strong upper back – rhomboids, traps, serratus anterior amongst others, muscles need to be straightened and strengthened, your levator scapular which should be working your shoulder blades often has to take over to support your head if you are in a forward head posture position (which we often are when reading screens) so learning to sit up straight, with your head up, it will make a difference. But aim for your optimum, not perfection!  And whilst doing your back exercises will not mean you’re a pert 21 year old, your boobs can become more full beam!  

Thirdly – however, if you’re wearing the wrong size bra you will find beating gravity and remaining in your optimum posture, harder.  The University of Portsmouth found that appropriate breast support has been identified as the most effective form of treatment for the breast sag with 80% of the support from a bra coming from the band and 20% from the straps.  Ideally we should be remeasured every 6 months, but Siobhan O Donovan from www.posturefittingphysio.com who also runs Gals against Gravity recommends at least getting measured every time we go through a life change is key.  She adds “throughout our menstrual cycle we can vary in size by up to one cup size so many women need to have two bras per cycle”  

And if you’re thinking that you have no boobs anymore (like I thought about myself) and can get away with no bra/a crop top, you are likely to be wrong.  It turns out that I, like many many women, thought I was a 34 B or C.  I have literally no idea what I based this one.  Anyway, I’m a 32D and therefore my boobs on average weigh 900 grammes each – that’s almost two bags of sugar on my front.  (fyi pregnant breasts can weigh 1.8kg each!) Imagine if you were walking around with two bags of sugar attached to your front with no support.  Immediately you can feel the strain on your back.

So in Summary

Check your breasts – now!  See https://www.knowyourlemons.com/

Check your posture & bra size –  You wouldn’t wear the wrong size shoes, so why wear the wrong size bra! Siobhan O Donovan from “Posture Matters” is offering an online consultation to help you achieve your optimum posture using a bra to then help you to maintain it.  The consultation includes an initial assessment looking at how you stand from the arches of your feet up to your collar bones and more.  She will then review your bra and work with you to find the best bra-fit for you. She will give you prompts and tips including, if appropriate and in conjunction with me, strength exercises to work on maintaining this position, helping you to  feel taller, more confident and happier.

For more information please contact Siobhan directly at siobhan@posturefittingphysio.com, check out her website on www.posturefittingphysio.com or contact her via + 353 87 7678873. The cost is £135 and includes the above, plus she will send you a number of bras, numerous times if necessary, to ensure you get your best fit.  I’ve been working with her to find my optimum fit in a sports bra and it really is a fantastic and bespoke service, and a worthy investment in your wellbeing.

Check your exercise – strength once again is so important.  All those upper posterior chain exercise come to the fore!  Working your trapezius, even daily shoulder shrugs or rolls, can make a difference.  See strength sessions taking place with me from January (under January Programmes and Events).