Anyone whose cups runneth over knows breasts can be a pain, but new research has revealed just how significant a role breasts — even A-cups — play in triggering the spinal stress that leads to back problems. “Breasts that are A-cup in size put 15 pounds of force on the spine, and DD-cups exert 32 pounds of pressure,” notes study author Kenneth Hansraj, MD, chief of spine surgery at New York Spine Surgery & Rehabilitation Medicine.
“This can alter posture to increase forces on the spine by an additional 25 to 30 percent, causing back, neck and shoulder pain.” But we don’t have to live with the strain — these tips can ease spinal stress no matter what your cup size.
A little “posture rehab” can end pain. Dr. Hansraj explains, “Keeping your ears aligned with your shoulders and your shoulder blades retracted markedly diminishes spinal stress caused by the weight of breasts.”
His tip: Do 20 shoulder squeezes a day. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as if you’re lifting wings attached to them. Hold for 3 seconds; release and repeat. This immediately puts your upper body in proper posture, says Dr. Hansraj. “Plus, it builds upper-back strength to make ideal alignment easier to maintain.”
Lift Your Phone
Dropping your head by 20 degrees — which we tend do a lot now because we are often looking at our phone— amplifies breast forces placed on the spine, so a C-cup that would normally exert 23 pounds of pressure exerts 32 pounds, says Dr. Hansraj.
His advice: Lift your phone to chin height and look down with your eyes only to view it. “Directing your gaze downward rather than hunching over eases stress on the back and neck muscles.”
A Bra Update
Bras that lack support cause women to round their shoulders to compensate for breast weight, warns osteopathic physician Seth Scholl, DO. “This puts added stress on upper-back muscles, producing pain.” According to Jené Luciani, author of The Bra Book: An Intimate Guide to Finding the Right Bra, Shapewear, Swimsuit, and More! ($19.95, Amazon), the number one sign your bra isn’t providing adequate support: It rides up in the back. “Since 90 percent of a bra’s support comes from the band that runs from under the cups to the back, it’s important that it fits correctly,” she notes. “It should lay horizontally across your back and be snug enough that you can slide just your index and middle fingers beneath it.”
She advises women with large breasts to look for wider bands with three to four hooks, as well as structured cups. “These ensure breasts stay in the center of your chest.” (For help finding the right bra, take the Fit Finder quiz at Third Love).
This story originally appeared in our print magazine.
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