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Storm In A Teacup

by Denise Park MSc MCSP SRP Grad Dip Phys
Wednesday 25th November 2009
 
 

Storm In A Teacup - or Rather should it be, sport in A D-Cup?

Physiotherapist Denise Park decided to write about something which she thinks is particularly important to women.

I recently helped with the race commentary at a race, so was busy watching everybody who came over the finish line. There was a comment made by a male that somebody looked ‘full of boobs’. When I questioned him, he said he had meant to say looked ‘full of beans’ but I think he was possibly right the first time! Seriously - some of you need to think about what you are wearing under your running vest. For a female, a good fitting, supportive exercise bra is as important as the right running shoes.

Several years ago, before exercise bras became more widely available, I visited my local lingerie shop to purchase a new sports bra. When the shop manager asked my size, her response was “Are you sure somebody your size should be exercising?” I was appalled and disgusted. Thankfully attitudes have changed and sports bras are now much more widely available, so there is no excuse not to be kitted out properly. Trinny and Susannah say that 70% of women wear the wrong size of bra, but a staggering 73% of women who exercise regularly don’t even wear a sports bra whilst exercising.

Appropriate breast support has been identified as the most effective form of treatment for breast pain and the prevention of breast sag (Hadi, 2000). A study in 1999 (Mason, Page, Fallon) showed that up to 56% of women experienced breast discomfort whilst exercising – mainly caused by both the vertical movement and maximum downward deceleration forces on foot strike. The fragile Coopers ligaments which support the breasts may become irreparably stretched by wearing the wrong bra or no bra during exercise. There is no muscle in the breast tissue, so once these ligaments have been overstretched there is no exercise that will help to get the breasts back where they belong. Strengthening exercises for the pectoral muscles will not tighten overstretched ligaments – once they have migrated south they aren’t going to come back north.

Portsmouth University is carrying out research to determine breast motion during activity, and have a ‘bounceometer’ to assist in their studies. The movement can be viewed on the Shock Absorbers website – which will make even the smallest of you realize how important it is for you to have appropriate support. Professor LaJean Lawson who has been studying breast motion since 1985 and has been involved in sports bra design, has described how the breasts move from side to side, front to back and up and down during activity. She claims that D-cup breasts in a low support bra can travel as much as 35 inches in the vertical axis (up and down)! However, a B-cup with a high support exercise bra can decrease this movement to less than an inch. Shock Absorber claim that their bras can reduce breast movement by up to 74%, whereas a normal day-to-day bra only reduces the movement by up to 38%.

There are 2 main types of bra available:

  • Compression bras that hold the breasts against the chest wall and evenly distribute their mass across the chest – more suitable for smaller women (A and B cup).
  • Encapsulation bras that support the breasts individually – more suitable for larger women (C cup and above) – or as one article says; these bras further reduce motion as it is easier to control two smaller masses than one large one.

There is another bra which seems to combine both of these styles. It is the Enell sports bra from America and is described on the boobydoo website as ‘a sports bra for any woman who wants a serious piece of kit designed specifically for the larger bust’.

Just like running shoes, everybody is unique so you have to find the bra which suits you best. A key principle of ergonomics is ‘make sure the tool fits the task and that it fits the individual’!

A good fitting bra supports the bust and spreads the weight onto the shoulders and back. The fabric should be comfortable and absorbent, with no rough seams that could rub or cause irritation. The straps should be fairly rigid to minimize bounce and be wide enough to sit comfortably on the shoulders. The underband should be firm around the body to prevent the bra from riding up, but not so tight that it feels to restrict breathing. There is no evidence that breathing is impeded by a tighter band (Bowles, Steel, 2005) but it can feel restrictive.

The best way to test the effectiveness of a bra is the ‘jump test’ – jump up and down in front of a mirror and see if your bounce has reduced – I suggest you do this on your own to avoid unhelpful comments!

Sports bras are usually categorised by the amount of impact of a particular exercise. They are either graded 1-4, with level 4 being the highest level, or low, medium and high impact. For running, medium impact / level 3 is required for cup size A or B, with larger cup sizes (C and above) requiring high impact or level 4.

Studies have been carried out to determine whether running style, stride length and ground reaction forces vary with the type of support worn (Shivitz, 2001). The results suggest that as breast support increases, breast motion decreases and that insufficient support may also result in adaptations to the female’s running mechanics. There seems little point focusing on a training schedule to improve performance, but then wearing inadequate support which may adversely affect your performance. A good sports bra also improves a female’s confidence, and a confident female always performs better.

Exercise bras are expensive, but they are worth it – and they last longer than a pair of shoes. It’s too late once those Coopers ligaments have been overstretched! I have been stopped by women all round the world to ask which bra I wear because it looks ok and is obviously effective.

I would like to say a huge thank-you to Jane Laycock from www.boobydoo.co.uk. Jane has an excellent website specialising in exercise bras and has supported me in writing this article. She is also a keen runner.

Denise M Park: Musculoskeletal Chartered Physiotherapist
MSc   MCSP   SRP   Grad Dip Phys
World Mountain Running Association Accredited Physio

Tel:  01200 423181
www.deniseparkphysio.co.uk 
29 Peel St, Clitheroe, Lancs, BB7 1NH 


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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