May Blog 2010


By Clive Lindley-Jones | May 28, 2010 9:11 am

“Breasts, half of us have them so what is all the fuss about?” said Anna Scott, played by Julia Roberts in the film, Notting Hill. Well good question. One way or another, as far as anatomy is concerned, breasts get a lot of attention from both men and women. And this month I wanted to write a few words, exclusively to half of you who have them, on the importance of getting the right bra. You may ask what I can possibly know about this subject being a mere man. And it is true that I would probably have shied away from the subject when younger, thinking women must know more about this subject than I did.  But as an osteopath, over many decades, I see a lot of women with back and neck pain which can, sometimes, at least in part, be exasperated by badly fitting bras.  Estimates vary, but perhaps 60-80% of women are in the wrong size bra! Breasts are getting bigger. Which seems to please most people, so the importance of getting this tricky engineering feat right is even more pressing.

The subject seems to be in the air, as in the months it has been in the back of my mind to write this, I have come across two mentions of it in the media. First on Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 at the end of November, and more recently in Alice Fisher’s  wittily titled article “The Boom in Busts” in The Observer Magazine (16/5/10). Everyone agrees that British breasts are getting bigger. Alice Fisher tells us that in recent years the average bra size has expanded from 34B to 36D, what is not clear yet is why.

There are some who fear that this may be an unfortunate response to xenoestrogens-man made chemicals that are present in everything from weedkillers and food preservatives to make up-which may be effecting every thing from breast size to sperm count. The difficulty is getting robust scientific proof of this.

Perhaps there is a simpler and more benign explanation. As each new generation of  women get better nourishment, they are more able to grow unhindered by malnourishment that stunted so many girls growth in former generations. Now, with better and more food available, they are able naturally  to grow to their full potential, and, obesity apart, this may just account for some of the expansion of cup size over back size we are seeing.

There is so much good advice out there on the internet in video form I shall confine myself here to a few reminders of the key areas to watch out for:

Do your shoulder straps dig in  or do your boobs bulging out of the cup?

Do you notice some wrinkling in the cup or the wire standing away at the front between your boobs?

Does your bra moves when arms are raised or perhaps you are just making do with a worn out old bra? Which?, the consumer watchdog monthly magazine, suggests that a bra will last only about six months, on average, before components deteriorate – but 16% of their respondents had bras more than five years old. They recommend hand-washing and no tumble-drying for these specialist, highly engineered articles of clothing.

Which? busted high street stores’ bra fitting services after an undercover investigation. Fewer than 1 in 3 shops measured up and no service was good enough to recommend. The full investigation appears in the February 2010 issue. They sent 11 researchers, aged 25 – 75 with a DD cup size or larger, to 70 specialist and high street stores. A quarter of the fittings were appalling – our experts suggested the volunteers could have been better ‘picking something off a market stall’.

While the over all results were poor, so there were no ‘best buys’, John Lewis, Bravissimo and Marks and Spencer were  the best of a selection of major chains that were tested. Perhaps since then the shock of this result from the influential consumers pressure group will have changed things for the better.

With the internet, numerous shops now have helpful, on-line video guides, to the art and science of successfully fitting a bra. Here are a couple to check out.

In an interesting piece of osteopathic research – Breast size, bra fit and thoracic pain in young women: a correlational study – Katherine Wood found that it appears that women do not simply choose bras in the wrong size. More specifically, the larger a woman’s breasts, the more likely it is that she will be wearing bras that were too small, and conversely, the smaller a woman’s breasts, it is more likely she will choose bras that were too big.

Woods observed that: “Put simply, it is easier to accurately size bras for smaller breasted women. Larger breasted women are more prone to incorrect bra sizing because their breasts may be ptotic and bulbous, making accurate overbust measurement difficult. When taking the underband measurement, there is a tendency to cut into excess flesh with the tape measure magnifying the inaccuracy of cup-size measurement . Accurate bra fit is similarly difficult for overweight and obese women”.

So in conclusion, one in three women are overweight and the breast is a complex, ever changing structure made up of glands, fat and connective tissue. Even if the apparent size change turned out not to be just the result of obesity or better nutrition over the generations,  it could just be that underwear has finally  started to be developed to cater for figures that have always existed, but just not been well-supported – in any sense of the word – until now.

Whatever the eventual outcome, don’t wait. Look after, what is, after all, probably making up 1% of your body weight, 4-5% of your body fat. As we all know these assets have  always been and meant to us all, so much  more than the sum of their parts. If you are like the average british woman you probably own sixteen bras at anytime and buy four a year, so don’t just rely on what you always got, you change, the manufacturers change, the sizing changes your breasts change with your hormones, your babies, your age so by all means, measure – but don’t rely on this alone. Typically most women get the cup size wrong and even many fitters don’t seem to be doing a great job, according to Which?, so what’s a girl to do?

Get informed, get out there, get well fitted, and get rid those old uncomfortable, unflattering bras and  get ride some of  that old shoulder, head or back ache!  Then if the new bra doesn’t quite do it come and see us at Helix House.  Let us see if we can help you, after all, we are the experts.

Remember if you would rather see a woman osteopath, Susan Farwell D.O. is also a very experienced osteopath and works along side me at Helix House and is famed for her incisive and gentle approach.