Chronic Pain

Everything you need to know about bra strap syndrome

Wearing the wrong style or fit of a bra can lead to major complications like chronic shoulder pain and back pain.

In recent years this has become an area of focus as millions of women complain about bra related pain, and there have been steps made in looking towards understanding and treatment of bra strap syndrome, sometimes called costoclavicular syndrome or thoracic outlet syndrome.

Bra Strap Syndrome is a condition that is caused by bra straps that are too tight and too small for the wearer.

It is a terrible condition that causes pain in the shoulders, neck, and back, and it has been known to cause nerve damage after several years of suffering.

Bra Strap Syndrome also goes by another name, costoclavicular syndrome, because it affects the costoclavicular passage in the thoracic outlet.

This condition was first noticed by soldiers who wore packs heavy on their shoulders. The complications can be detrimental to the health of the person.

If you suspect you might have this condition, a visit to your doctor is in order. Your doctor can do a thorough examination of your shoulders in order to determine the best treatment for your condition.

Often, pain medication can help, but there are other treatments known to relieve the pain caused by this condition.

Symptoms of bra strap syndrome

The most notable symptoms of bra strap syndrome will be a pain in the shoulders, arms, and hands.

Often this is because poorly fitting straps can cause nerve damage to the area of the brachial plexus, which runs from the spine to the arms.

Damage to these nerves can cause:

  • Limited arm movement
  • Weakness in the arms and hands
  • Tingling or pins and needles in the arms
  • Blue or swollen hands and fingers
  • Indentations in the shoulder area

How bra strap syndrome affects a body

Historically, bra strap syndrome was first noticed in soldiers who carried heavy backpacks. Often this would lead to problems of mobility, pain, and weakness in the arms.

This is now known to be caused by excess pressure on the shoulders, which leads to compression of the nerves in the torso.

Unfortunately, the same thing can happen when breasts are not properly supported by the right bra.

Particularly with bras that have narrow or small straps, the pressure is increased in the shoulder area, when it should be allowed to divert to the bra’s strap.

This causes further pressure on your collarbone, which can then affect the nerves near the ribs.

Essentially, this closes up your thoracic outlet, compressing the area’s nerves which causes your pain.

Straps that are too small or too tight can also cause physical marks or rawness in the area of your shoulders. These can be painful both when wearing a bra and when not wearing a bra.

Who is affected by bra strap syndrome?

Since an ill-fitting bra is most often the cause of bra strap syndrome, women of any age or shape can be affected.

It is estimated that most women do not wear bras that fit properly, making this a common problem for millions of women around the world.

However, women who are older and women who are obese may be at a higher risk for pain related to bra strap syndrome.

Similarly, women with large breasts who choose bras with small straps will likely feel increased negative effects.

How to know if you have bra strap syndrome

Of course, pain in the shoulders and tingling in the hands and arms may be your first clue that there is excess stress being placed on your nerves.

Often ill-fitting straps will also leave marks or indentation on the skin, which may be sore, red, or raw.

While your exterior skin may be affected, the tissue underneath will also have been affected, which means that these marks may remain after a bra has been removed.

If you or your doctor presses down on these areas and it helps to relieve your symptoms, this may indicate that there is damage to the area.

If you can move your shoulders and you don’t appear to have any weakness or soreness in the muscles but you feel pain, this can mean that you may have bra strap syndrome.

Some people with bra strap syndrome find that their hands turn blue and may become swollen or puffy.

While this may or may not be accompanied by tingling, it can be an indication that pressure is being placed somewhere it shouldn’t be.

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How to care for bra strap syndrome

Unfortunately, it can be hard for medical professionals to see the signs of bra strap syndrome, as it won’t show up in blood tests and may even be hard to see via x-rays, without the responsible item being in place.

However, there are some easy techniques that can be done that can help minimize pain.

Using a moist heat for 5-10 minutes can help loosen up the muscles in the area.

Stretching through yoga or other methods, particularly focusing on your torso area between the chest and ribs, can be a great way to help reopen compressed areas.

Slow, controlled movements of the arm while laying on your side are great exercises to do.

Temporarily switching to a strapless bra or a bra with large straps can help reduce pressure while still maintaining support.

Avoiding carrying heavy items or shopping bags will help allow the area to heal.

Practicing good posture to make sure that none of your body’s nerves are compressed.

How you can help prevent bra strap syndrome

The good news about bra strap syndrome is that it is entirely preventable.

Unfortunately, most women do not wear the right bras for their body, and so with a few easy preventative measures, you can avoid this pain entirely. Find the best bra on Amazon.

Getting measured for a properly fitting bra can be the best way to make sure you are shopping in the right sizes.

Looking for styles that provide more support in the band under the breast.

Finding bras with wider shoulder straps that can reduce the pressure placed on the shoulder area.

Discarding old bras that may no longer provide good support due to loss of elasticity.

Since obesity and excess weight can contribute both to bra strap syndrome and to larger breasts, losing weight is a great way to make sure you reduce your chances of compressing nerves.

Regular exercise – while wearing the right bra supports – can help your body’s systems work better, will make sure your muscles stay loose and limber and will keep the excess weight from making your favorite bra fit poorly.

Working on ways to improve your posture, particularly if you sit for long hours at a desk all day, can also immensely cut down on the excess pressure that bra straps place on your shoulders.

If your bra fits correctly, you should feel comfortable and supported when you sit up straight. Plus, this will help reduce any risk of poor circulation.

Once you have figured out your prognosis, there are several things you can do to help relieve the pain you might still be experiencing.

These are usually easy, but effective ways to relieve the pain in the shoulders, neck, and back areas.

Sometimes, your treatment might take a little while, and other times it might mean going braless for a few days.

Many of the treatments are simple fixes, and it can vastly change the way you live your life, especially if you’ve been in pain for awhile.

One of the easiest things you can do for the pain is by using a moist rag that has been heated up.

Place it on the area for 5 to 10 minutes to help relieve the pain. Make sure that you are focusing the heated area on the muscles that have been affected.

Another great way to relieve the pain is by stretching out the area through yoga or other various stretches.

Yoga has been shown to relieve pain in several areas of the body, and the intense stretching is a great way to loosen up the muscles that are compressed.

Using good posture also helps, and yoga can help train your muscles for better posture overall.

Yoga poses can also help loosen up the shoulders, especially if you have larger breasts.

It can help you strengthen your core as well to better hold up the weight that is caused by larger breast.

Posture, which yoga helps with, can help you hold up your shoulders for less pain as well.

Some people even switch to strapless bras or a bra that has larger straps to help relieve some of the pain from the shoulders.

Sports bras can also be helpful since they relocate the straps to a different area of the back, neck, and shoulders.

If you are able, you could even go braless for a while to allow your shoulders, neck, and back to heal.

In fact, going braless has been proven to help breasts be perkier and less saggy. Many women are starting to take this initiative to protect their breasts.

However, you cannot wear a strapless or sports bra forever, which means you’re going to need to adjust to a new bra overtime.

This will be looked at in further detail a bit later, but you should note that getting a new, better fitting bra can mean the difference between suffering from pain and being pain-free.

Another way to heal your shoulders from this syndrome is to avoid carrying heavy objects that might pull down on your shoulders and back.

Heavy grocery bags or other heavy items can be detrimental to the healing process that is needed.

If you need a topical treatment, over the counter medications for pain relief can help eliminate the pain for a time.

Many people also prefer using a heating pad with a cold compress to loosen up the muscles in the area most affected.

Like mentioned earlier, painkillers can be an effective treatment for reducing the discomfort in the area.

A doctor can prescribe you pain medication that is stronger to help you get back on your feet after dealing with this intense pain for so long.

Best Treatment For Bra Strap Syndrome

Perhaps the best treatment available is changing bras. They are expensive, but when it comes to your health, you should never skimp on a bra. You need to be properly fitted for a bra by using a professional for measuring.

Not only should you purchase the right cup size, but you need to purchase the right band size as well.

Any professional measurements can tell you which band size would be ideal for you, ensuring that you are not getting a bra that is too constricting.

Straps are perhaps the most important since they are the portion that will be holding the bra on your shoulders.

If you have larger breasts, be sure to get straps that are wider and not skinny. Wider straps help provide more support along the shoulders by distributing the weight across a larger space.

You should also be sure your straps are not too tight. Many women make the mistake of tightening up the straps too much, which causes them to dig into the shoulders and neck during the day.

If you constantly do this, it will cause major pain. Simply readjust your straps to see if the pain subsides.

Remember, that you should be getting measured for a bra by a professional. This means that they will know the best cup size, band size, and strap size for your specific needs, and you can be more confident about the bra you are wearing every day. Your doctor may even suggest a new bra to help with the pain.

If you have tried all, the available treatments, but you are still experiencing pain in your shoulders, neck, and back, you might want to contact your doctor for further evaluation.

Since this Syndrome can have serious effects on the body, you might require further treatment that only a medical professional can provide.

Resources:

http://www.physio-pedia.com/Costoclavicular_Syndrome

http://www.cbc.ca/stevenandchris/health/abcs-of-bra-health

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1 Comment

  • I was a size C by the time I was 11. Today, fitted properly, I’m an H. If I get just the right bra (wired, soft cup, no lining) then I can squeeze into an F (DDD) fairly comfortably and still get a decent measure of support for around the house. This can alleviate pain in the breasts for a while, allowing them to chill, but it asks much more of the shoulder straps. The permanent indentations in my shoulders are not pretty at all.