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.
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.
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.
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.