Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on April 07, 2021
Neck and Back Problems
Experts disagree on whether improper bra fit can cause neck and back pain. Some studies say it’s not related, but others show people with large breasts are more likely to wear a bra that doesn’t provide enough support. This may lead to posture problems and pain.
If your breasts spill out over the top of your cups, are squished into your armpits, or are poked with underwire, they’ll hurt in a hurry.
One of the biggest reasons that nipples hurt? Friction. A bra that’s too loose or too tight and that rubs you the wrong way can make for chafed, irritated nipples.
Breasts that aren’t well supported can sag and cause stretch marks on your skin that last a lifetime. You can also get grooves in your shoulders from the straps digging into the skin over time.
If you have head pains you can’t explain, you may have your bra to blame. The tension you can get in your muscles from a badly fitting bra can cause headaches.
The Best Fit
Key places to focus to ensure a good fit: the cups, front band, and straps. Be sure your band is tight enough that it stays in place without slipping but loose enough to slide a finger between it and your skin easily. Choose straps wide enough that they don’t dig into your shoulders, and cups that fully contain your breasts.
How to Find Your Fit
To get your bra size, you can either visit a store that will do measurements for you, or do it yourself. First, measure your chest just under your breasts and round up to the nearest whole number. This is the number part of your bra size. Be sure to keep the measuring tape below your shoulder blades -- this is where the back strap of your bra should be.
Find Your Cup Size
Next measure your chest at your nipples. The difference between this measurement and your chest measurement tells you your cup size: One inch is an A cup, two is B, three is C, and four is D, and so on. If your breasts are different sizes, you can find inserts to help even them out for a better bra fit.
You need double the breast support during workouts: choose a sports bra that stays put when you jump, twist, and bend. But don’t try to get that support by wearing a bra that’s too tight: This can cause neck pain and compression that leads to numbness in your arms. A bra that rubs will chafe and even cause bleeding, especially around the band. It may help to dab some petroleum jelly or sports lubricant on any problem areas.
When to Say Goodbye
Your bra should serve you well for several years, if you care for it well. Wash it about every two to three wears so the fabric doesn’t wear out too quickly. Watch for signs of underwire exposure or stretching that could mess with your fit.
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Chiropractic and Osteopathy: “Breast size, bra fit and thoracic pain in young women: A correlational study.”
Orthopaedic Proceedings: “The Impact Of Different Breast Support Garments On Larger Breasted Women With Non-specific Back Pain.”
Alberta Health Services Women’s Health: “Breast pain: Fitting your bra.”
K Health: “Why Do My Nipples Hurt? Causes of Nipple Pain.”
Clinical Biomechanics: “Quantification of gravity-induced skin strain across the breast surface.”
Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery: “Correction of the Bra Strap Shoulder Groove Deformity in Women.”
Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Finding the Right Bra.”
Clothing and Textiles Research Journal: “Which Bra Components Contribute to Incorrect Bra Fit in Women Across a Range of Breast Sizes?”
Tufts Medical Center: “Tips to find a bra that fits – and boosts your health.”
Ochsner Health: “How to Avoid Nipple Chafing While Running.”
Cleveland Clinic: “How Often Do You Really Need to Wash Your Bras?”