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Breast Surgery Information

Health risks can be avoided by the right choice of bra!

Many women are not aware that an ill-fitting or unsuitable bra can cause or contribute to many complaints and conditions. We interviewed Dr Hans-Ulrich Krüger, head physician at the Bavaria Clinic, Freyung, a leading German rehabilitation centre on the subject.

Anita: Dr. Krüger, is it actually necessary for women to wear a bra?

Dr. Krüger: Well, a young woman with a small bust can decide for herself whether she wants to wear a bra or not. However, when doing sports, all women would benefit from wearing a well-fitting sports bra. The fact is that in industrialised western societies more than 90 per cent of all women wear a bra, and a bra is regarded as a staple item in our clothing culture. The problem is this - most women wear a bra which is either unsuitable or does not fit properly. In these cases the positive effect of a bra on the body and breast tissue is lost and, quite the reverse, it becomes a potential health risk.

Anita: Why do so many women wear the wrong bra although a wide range of styles and sizes are available?

Dr. Krüger: In some cases the bra size was measured incorrectly. A frequent error is to overestimate the underbust measurement of women with a large bust. Many people are unaware that the weight of the breasts is not only carried by the bra straps, but also by the underbust band. It should also be taken into account that the bra size normally changes with increasing age, fluctuations in body weight and also during hormone therapy. Some women who experience extreme changes in breast size during their monthly cycle may even measure a different bra size in the first half of their cycle to their second.

Anita: Which particular health problems can be caused by a tight or ill-fitting bra?

Dr. Krüger: These are mainly shoulder/arm complaints; tension across the shoulders and neck, headaches, cervical spine problems and also back pain in the lower spinal region. Narrow, ill-fitting straps which cut in can also irritate and put strain on the trapezius muscle and complex structures of the shoulder joint. A well-fitting bra should not impede the free movement of the shoulder blades. If a woman is experiencing problems in the cervical spine region or shoulders, or suffers from chronic headaches and back pain, her existing bras and measurements should always be checked to exclude any potential problems.

Anita: Are there other health problems which can be caused by an ill-fitting or unsuitable bra?

Dr. Krüger: These are mainly skin complaints, especially in the underbust area. In the United States in particular links between wearing tight bras and breast cancer are being examined. Currently, however, there is no clear evidence supporting such suspicions, but such links have also not been clearly excluded. The many proven risk factors for the occurrence of breast cancer definitely play a much more important role. However, there can be no doubt that a well-fitting bra not only looks better and feels more comfortable, but also prevents the occurrence of any potential health problems which may be associated with a badly-fitting bra.

Anita: So the key factor is prevention by wearing bras with an optimum size and fit?

Dr. Krüger: Yes. A well-fitting suitable bra can help to prevent complaints in the back, shoulders and neck, especially in women with a large bust. Combined with physiotherapy, a well-fitting bra is an important factor in treating these problems and can also help to prevent the development of long-term chronic complaints.

Advice on Lymphoedema

  • Go regularly to a therapist for lymph drainage.
  • Make sure the straps of your bra do not cut into your skin.
  • Choose a bra with wide straps which do not curl, and with a soft and wide underbust band. Bras should never cut in. Avoid wearing clothes which restrict or cut in on the operated side.
  • Promote lymph drainage with preventative gymnastic exercises. A simple exercise: squeeze a rubber ball for three minutes several times a day with the hand on the operated side.
  • Regularly rest your arm in an elevated position, e.g. while watching television. Avoid any cuts or scratches.
  • Wear your handbag on the side which has not been operated on or carry a small rucksack.
  • Do not use the arm on the operated side for blood pressure measurements, injections or blood samples.