• Christina Hellmann

Bras, breasts and back pain

This week’s blog is one for the ladies. I’d like to talk about bras – their potential link with upper back pain and more importantly – how to check you are wearing the right size!

Bras come in all kinds of types nowadays. There are lots of different styles and fits so it can be a little daunting when trying to establish which fit works best for you. T-shirt bra, sports bra, bralette, plunge, balcony… The list goes on. What works for one woman won’t necessarily work for another. I hear lots of my female patients and myself included complain about bras – poking underwires, straps that rub and dent our shoulders and we can’t wait to whip them off as soon as we get home! But when you find the right style for you and your body shape and more importantly, the right size, it can really help to support you and your breasts. With a reported 80% of women wearing an incorrect bra size and women with larger breasts more typically wearing an incorrect bra size, I wanted to explain how to work out which bra size and fit is best for you.

Role of the bra

The role of the bra is to help support the breast tissue. Breast support requirements differ during different stages of life. Puberty, pregnancy, menopause and even illnesses like breast cancer can all affect which bra is best suited for supporting breast tissue. So it’s important to take a mental note every now and then and make sure your bra is still supporting you properly as you go through life. If it isn’t, it may be time to change it to a different type or style which offers better support.

Breasts and upper back pain

It used to be commonly thought that the larger the breasts, the more likely the chance of suffering with upper back pain. Research is now suggesting that it’s less about the size of the breast, but more about the nature of the bra fit which may contribute to upper back pain. When bras are poorly fitted, it impairs their function to support breast tissue and can therefore cause certain levels of discomfort. That said, breast size may still have some role to play in upper back pain, particularly larger, heavier breasts although this is more likely to be only a small part of upper back pain. Other issues such as general back muscle weakness and musculoskeletal issues are normally considered a more direct link to upper back pain.

How to measure for your bra size

Many underwear shops offer a free bra fitting service. If however, you don’t have time or would rather measure yourself, here’s how to do it. All you need is a soft tape measure.

Step one – Band and bust

Band – the band of the bra is the part that sits underneath the breasts and wraps all the way round to the back. To measure the band, wrap the measuring tape around your torso directly under your breasts. Make sure the tape is level all the way round (check in the mirror or get someone to help you if it’s easier). The tape should feel fairly snug around this point. Measure in inches and round to the nearest whole number.

Bust – the bust is the fullest part of the chest, usually around the nipple line. Use the tape measure to measure all the way around the bust line. Make sure the tape isn’t constricting the bust but not too loose either. It should feel comfortable. Again, measure in inches and round to the nearest whole number.

Step two – Cup size

Once you have your band measurement and your bust measurement, you can then work out your cup size by doing the following equation:

Bust size – band size = cup size

The difference between your bust size and band size will give you a number which you can then use to work out your cup size. The numbers and their associated cup sizes are shown below:

And so on.


If your band size measures 34 inches and your bust size measures 38 inches, you would first work out the difference between your bust and band size:

38 – 34 = 4

The difference is four. When looking at the table of cup sizes, you can see that a difference of four means you are a C cup. So your final bra size would be your band size and your cup size – in this case:


And that’s it! It’s easy to work out your own bra size with this method. Give it a go! It’s also worth remembering that some bras may fit differently according to different brands but by using this equation, it gives you the basic tools to work out your correct size. Once you have worked out your correct bra size, have a play around with different bra styles in that size to get a feel of what style works best for you and your body shape.

Tips for how to wear a bra correctly

Cups – your breasts should fill the cup without ‘spilling’ over the edge

Underwire – if your bra has an underwire, it should surround each breast without pinching anywhere

Back band – the back band should be straight, level and not riding up your back

Straps – the straps should stay in place without digging or slipping so make sure you adjust them to a comfortable length


I hope you found this information useful. Remember, breast care is very important! I think it’s important to know you are wearing the correct bra size so if you aren’t sure, grab a soft tape measure and give the equation above a go! Although it’s not a direct link to upper back pain, it really can contribute so when you’re properly supported, it’s one less thing for your upper back to have to deal with! If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. Have a great week!

#WomensHealth #BackPain