The breast itself has limited support of its own and as a result moves during activity. This can result in exercise related breast pain, experienced by up to 70% of exercising women . We surveyed 1,285 female marathon runners  taking part in the 2012 London Marathon whose bra cup sizes ranged from an AA cup to an H cup, and underband measurements ranged from 28 to 40 inches. We found that a third of the females surveyed experienced breast pain, a proportion that rose with increasing cup size. More than half of those wearing an F cup or larger reported frequent breast pain, but smaller-breasted women were also affected, with one quarter of those wearing an A cup reporting breast pain when exercising.
Those taking part in the survey who had never had children were more likely to experience pain (35 per cent), than those who had given birth (28 per cent). Of those who experienced pain, more women experienced pain when participating in vigorous physical activity (64 per cent), compared to moderate physical activity (54 per cent) and 17% reported that their breast pain resulted in changes in their exercise behaviour.
Wearing a well-fitting supportive bra has been reported to relieve breast pain symptoms in 85% of patients, with no associated side-effects . However there is a wide choice of brands, styles and sizes available making the bra market a confusing place for women and a large number of women do not wear the right sized bra . Over 90% of females in our study reported always wearing a sports bra when running, yet a third still experienced breast pain. This suggests there is room for improvement in the design and manufacture of sports bras and that educational initiatives designed to help women assess their own bra fit using professional bra fitting criteria, may be needed.
Over half of women who reported experiencing breast pain described the severity of the pain as discomforting. Worryingly, the study showed that 44 per cent of respondents had taken no measures to relieve their symptoms, suggesting that women may accept pain as part of exercise. This highlights the lack of effective treatment methods available and the need for more research on breast pain treatment to allow women to exercise in greater comfort and without pain.
About Nicola Brown
Nicola Brown (PhD) is a Senior Lecturer in Health, Exercise and Physical Activity at St Mary’s University College and a member of the Research Group in Breast Health at the University of Portsmouth. She obtained her PhD in 2010 in body composition assessment and utilises her expertise in this area to understand the relationship between breast size and anthropometry and to examine the relationship between anthropometry, breast kinematics and breast pain. In addition, she is a Level 3 ISAK anthropometrist delivering ISAK accredited training courses.
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