Is your bra making you ill?

It isn't just about looks, a poor fit can cause back pain, indigestion and even headaches. But getting it right couldn't be easier, says Rosie Johnston

Are you constantly pulling up your bra straps? Do your shoulders fall forward? Do your bosoms bounce when you walk, despite your new balcony bra with lace trim? The chances are you are among the majority of women who have never had a proper bra fitting, and whose posture and back health are compromised as a result.

Attitudes about bra fit and function vary by generation. Younger women are more likely to find that their bra doesn't fit properly because, in the good old days, pubescent girls were almost always fitted for bras. The idea of being fitted for a bra when I was 13 would have been gross, but everything looks different after my bra epiphany, which happened in Night Owls on the Fulham Road, in south-west London.

"Your bra doesn't fit properly!" the lady at the cash register shouted, as I checked out the pink flannel pyjamas. I pretended not to notice. "I bet you've never had a bra fitting in your life!" continued the voice. She marched over. I was wearing an expensive underwired bra, designed to give "lift". I had tried it on in the shop, but that was not, I was told, a proper fitting. "I bet your back strap's half way up your shoulder blades. Look at your posture! Your bust line is sinking!" My ear lobes, she said, were almost attached to my shoulders. I'd spent years compromising my breast and back health, apparently, and my bra was a load of "shite". I told her I'd always been a 36C. "Rubbish," she snorted. "You're a 30- or 32E."

This was a shock; I'd only come in for pyjamas. As chairman of the PTA, I did not want an E cup. It sounded huge, like Jordan.

All this is not just a matter of vanity. Last week, the British Chiropractic Association (BCA) warned that wearing the wrong bra size can lead to a number of problems, including back pain, restricted breathing, abrasions, breast pain and poor posture. The problems are even more acute in large-breasted women. "Bras are like suspension bridges," says the BCA's Tim Hutchful. "You need a well-engineered bra so your shoulders don't end up doing all the work. Bras that don't fit will affect the shoulders and chest, and will almost certainly cause back pain as you get older."

The woman prodding, pulling and hoiking introduced herself as Yolanda Ktori. A passionate advocate of corsetry, she has seen the profession clobbered by our smash-and-grab society. "Women buy bras off the shelf at M&S [though it does offer a fitting service], and don't have a clue what size they are. Some stores offer fittings, but most women don't bother." She pushed my shoulders down and pulled my blades back, showing me where the strap should sit: on the meaty part of the shoulder towards the neckline, locking in with the shoulders and streamlining down the back to stop slipping. "It's like the reins on a horse. You pull everything back, not forward," she says.

The corsetry experts at Rigby & Peller estimate that 80 per cent of women that come through their doors are wearing the wrong-sized bra, and also stress that badly fitting bras can lead to back problems and bad posture. The most common bra solecisms are cups that are too small and bands that are loose around the back causing the shoulders to carry the weight of the bosoms, instead of the back. A bra must be firm (not tight) around the back and support the weight of the breasts in the mid to lower back. Rigby & Peller says the back band should be level with the underwire (Ktori says an inch-and-a-half lower).

Jon-Morton Bell, an osteopath, agrees that properly fitting bras are key to back health. "Ladies have to do a balancing act with gravity," he says. "Proper support for the breasts has a huge impact on back health. The best place to support the breasts is through the lumbar (lower back), but often, women take the strain through the thoracic (around the ribcage), which can cause a curved back. If a woman is bending forward because of insufficient breast support, the trapezius overstretches and causes headaches. All nerve roots come from the back; stomach upsets and fatigue are common by-products of bad back health. If ladies have a proper bra-fitting, back problems are often resolved."

There are even those who have claimed that there is a link between underwired bras and breast cancer. In their book Dressed to Kill, Sydney Ross Singer and Soma Grismaijer claim that the external pressure of the bra constricts the lymphatic vessels and prevents proper draining of the breast tissue, leading to fluid accumulation in the breast. Western rates of the disease are 10 times those of developing countries because, they tell us, women in the latter tend not to wear bras, let alone cleavage-heaving cross-your heart-and-hope-to-die wonder bras. They urge women to abandon bras and embrace freedom, but don't substantiate their claims with any supportive comparisons in diet, lifestyle or genetic history.

The metal in underwired bras is unpopular with acupuncturists as it crosses the body's meridians and blocks the flow of chi, they say, which can cause energy to stagnate. But breast cancer? Lynn Daly, from Cancer Research UK, says: "You would need to wear a bra that was painfully and unbearably tight to have any effect on your lymphatic system, but constriction or applying pressure to an area of the body does not cause normal cells to become cancerous."

"It's not rocket science," says Yolanda Ktori. "Saggy bosoms are bad for your back. Get a bra that fits properly. You wouldn't wear shoes that are too tight, would you? Women who have their bra fitted properly tell me it's changed their lives."

The wrong bra? How you can tell

Kate Horrell, fitting expert for the online lingerie shop figleaves.com, recommends looking closely in the mirror for the telltale signs that you're wearing the wrong bra size.



The underband is riding up

Lift up your arms to see whether the bra is tight enough. The underband should fit firmly against the body so that it does not slide about during normal activity.

The shoulder straps are digging in

The underband of a bra provides the majority (80 per cent) of support for the breasts, with the straps providing just 20 per cent. If the bra straps are digging in, it could be because the underband is too loose and you are over-adjusting the straps to feel supported. When you do this, the straps pull the bra up at the back, another sign that the band is too loose.

The centre fold is lifting away from the body

The centre front of the bra should lie flat against the body. If it doesn't, the cups could be too small.



The back band is overstretched

If your straps are too far apart at the back (they should be parallel), it may be that your bra band is too small and so is overstretching.

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

    £32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

    £45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

    £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

    Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

    £25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

    Day In a Page

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?