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April 11, 2021  
BACK NEWS: Feature Story

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  • Pain in the Back? Over Half of Women Blame Bra

    Pain in the Back, Shoulder, or Neck? Over Half of Women Polled Blame Their Bra

    March 19, 2007

    By: Jean Johnson for Back1

    The North American Spine Society and bra company Maidenform asked Harris Interactive to do an online poll last year. The question posed was how are women faring with their bras? How do their backs feel? How about their shoulders and neck? Are women generally pleased, neutral, or having pain?
    Take Action
    The following exercises for a healthy back are adapted from the North American Spine Society. Do each slowly, and start and end by stretching. If there is any pain after five repetitions, stop doing the motion.

  • Modified Sit-up: Lie on the back with the knees bent. Slowly raise the shoulders off the ground touching the knees with finger tips. Hold the neck as though you had an orange between the chin and the chest. Strong abdominal muscles protect the back.
  • Straight Leg Raise: Lying on the back with one leg bent, slowly raise leg to eight inches off the floor. Repeat five times and change legs.
  • Leg Lifts: Lying on the side with the lower leg bent slightly, raise the top leg eight to 10 inches. Repeat five times and change legs.
  • Neck Press: Use this isometric exercise to strengthen the neck. As you press your palm against your forehead, push using the neck muscles. Similarly, cup the hands against the back of the head and press backward with the neck. Hold each for 10 seconds and repeat six times.
  • Low Back Stretch: While standing or lying, raise one knee to the chest and hold for three seconds. Relax and repeat with the other leg.
  • Extension Stretch: After sitting or standing, stand and place both hands on the back of the waist. Then arch the back slowly and easily, allowing the eyes to travel to the ceiling.
  • Neck Stretches: Nod the head slowly forward, letting the chin drop to the chest. Then turn the head slowly from side to side. Finally tilt the head gently from side to side. This exercise is especially good for those working at computers.
  • Shoulder Rolls: Using a large, slow range-of-motion circle, roll the shoulders in both directions. When rolling to the back concentrate on squeezing your shoulder blades together. This is another good exercise for computer users.
  • Hamstring Stretch: Since these muscles run from the hip down the back of the leg, they are important for back and hip flexibility. To stretch the hamstrings when seated, simply scoot to the edge of the chair, extend one leg with the heel down and toe pointed to the ceiling, and slowly bend from the waist until a gentle stretch is felt through the hip and the back of the thigh.

  • Over 1,300 women participated, and 59 percent indicated that bras ‘sometimes’ or ‘rarely’ caused back, neck, or shoulder pain. In particular they cited problems associated with bra straps. They also pointed to the bra band around the rib cage, underwire, and cup fit as aspects of their brassieres that created discomfort.

    On the other hand, 39 percent of those polled expressed no complaints about their bras. Their spine health was fine, they reported. Another two percent agreed because they reported not wearing bras.

    A Century of Brassieres: From Corsets to Jog Bras

    A hundred years ago, brassieres were so new that the word wasn’t even in the Oxford English Dictionary. And it was only in 1907 that the term brassiere began to appear extensively in women’s magazines like Vogue. Indeed, the waist-length precursor to the bra that grew out of Victorian Era-corsets, which had fallen out of fashion around the 1850s, was first patented by Luman L. Chapman in 1863. By 1893 Marie Tucek patented what she called a ‘breast supporter,’ an item similar to today’s bras.

    In 1913, after the word brassiere made its debut in the Oxford English Dictionary the previous year, a New York socialite, Mary Phelps, fashioned a brassiere from two silk handkerchiefs and ribbon. Her friends loved her creation and encouraged her to market it. She didn’t have the motivation, however, and so sold her patent to Warner Brother’s Corset Company for $1500. It was all uphill – or downhill as some of the women polled indicated – from there.

    In the late 1920s and early 1930s cup sizes were added, and by the early 1940s billionaire Howard Hughes even got into the mix, designing a bra to showcase Jane Russell’s cleavage in the movie The Outlaw. Frederick’s of Hollywood wasn’t far behind, and soon advertisers were having a heyday. The bra helped displace the boyish flapper look of the 1920s and 1930s and inaugurated the World War II-era when fashions accented a woman’s curves. By the 1950s and 1960s, young girls equated getting their first bras with menarche, both important rites of passage.

    The late 20th century and new millennium, however, has brought challenges to the brassiere. First, the feminists of the Sixties with their bra burning attacked what they branded as gender-specific harnesses. They argued that bras were apparel designed to keep females mired in vanity and buying into the ideal of sex appeal as their key to power and prestige.

    Although bra-burning went by the wayside, as women increasingly came into their own in the latter decades of the century and enjoyed wider participation in sports, they began to look for ‘breast supports’ that were more user friendly: shelf and jog bras that would be comfortable when running a marathon or simply when doing one’s daily workout.

    Anecdotes from the Field

    We spoke with three women from around the nation, promising anonymity in return for candor. From Pittsburgh, a young woman aged 29 who wears a 32B bra size confided, “My bras don’t bother me, and I buy the laciest things I can. I’m a mother, but I’m also a wife and like to feel sexy.”

    An Atlanta, Georgia woman who is 49 and wears a 38D disagrees. “Bras? They are the worst. Yes, I’ve had all kinds of pain from them – back, shoulder, and neck. I can hardly wait to get home and get out of my bra.

    “Finally, after trying everything over the years, I found these 100 percent cotton bras that you order from the Internet. They have no clasps and are all soft knit like a heavy t-shirt material. They don’t do much to hoist your breasts up, but they sure are comfortable. I swear by these bras. It’s just a small company of women that make them.”

    In Newberg, Oregon we heard yet another take on the bra.

    “Talk about something that I have a love-hate relationship with. I cannot tell you the number of brassieres I have bought, but you have to appreciate my history to really understand it,” said a 55-year-old woman who currently wears a 34C.

    “I have had a weight problem all my life. I still remember the humiliation of getting fitting for my first bra. It was awful, it really was, but the dressing room part was just the beginning. The real drag was when I started wearing the obnoxious things. Of course, with my full figure, I have to have the kind with the underwires, and those stabbing things hurt my ribs. As far as my back and neck and shoulders, though, it was the straps that cut in. I was miserable all the time. No wonder I ate.

    “When I’m down in my weight, it’s great. I go out and buy these tiny little bras, and they don’t hurt a bit. When I balloon back up, though, it’s the same old story. So I too have found the stretchy cotton bras that are basically like form-fitting t-shirts [to be the best].”

    Last updated: 19-Mar-07


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