Bags and Bras may contribute to neck pain
Published on: 12/12/2023
Photo of a woman standing infront of a bright orange background in her underwear wearing a poorly fitting grey bra.

Author: Louise Atwill of Bowen Body Therapy

Neck Pain

Neck pain is a very common issue that I see in my Bowen Therapy clinic. There are numerous causes, too many to list here. Some presentations can be attributed to a pinched nerve, injury (such as whiplash) or physical and emotional stress for example. However, a contributing culprit to neck pain for women, especially with larger breasts, can be a poorly fitting bra. With the ease of online shopping, many women have never had a professional fitting. Research conducted in 2010* found that 85% of women who chose their own bra were wearing the incorrect size.

Poor Posture Matters

The head is a hefty lump, weighing between 2.3-5 kg or 5-11 lb and is supported by the structures of the neck. Believe it or not, wearing the wrong size bra can affect your posture which is likely to contribute to slouching. It follows therefore that neck and shoulder pain may well appear when the structures are under considerable, added pressure due to poor posture.

Consequently the straps and band of the bra should work together to distribute the weight evenly across your shoulders and back. This promotes better posture and will help reduce the likelihood of developing back and neck pain.

Breathe Easy

Tight bras can restrict your breathing. When the band is too snug, it can compress your ribcage making it difficult to take deep, full breaths. (The effects of poor breathing will be a topic for another day.)

Recommendations from a professional bra fitter: 

  • You should be able to easily slip a finger under the strap which sits on top of your shoulder.
  • Comfortably place 3 fingers flat on your back under the back strap.
  • If you wear an underwire bra, the wire should sit behind the breast tissue and not dig in.
  • With a new bra, the back strap should be attached using the outside hook, and get tighter as the bra stretches over time.
  • If your breast tissue spills out of the sides, the bra cup is too small.

My Observations

At a new client’s first appointment, not only do I take time to listen to their medical history, I look for subtle, visible clues which may contribute to their discomfort.

Clients with larger breasts who come to my Bowen clinic suffering with neck restriction, shoulder issues, back ache or a combination of all three often share a common trait. They wear painfully tight back and shoulder bra straps which dig deeply into their skin. Often their breast tissue spills over the top and sides of the bra cup.

This is why a whole body, holistic approach is important, because it is these observations, alongside Bowen treatment that could provide long lasting change.

What is Bowen Therapy?

Using thumbs or fingers, gentle moves are applied to stress-loading areas of the body. The light touch stimulates the sensory nervous system which relays messages via the spinal cord to the brain. This ‘two-way’ conversation between the brain and sensory nervous system enables the body to detect imbalance, initiate realignment without force or manipulation. Bowen Therapy can also reduce muscle tension, improve circulation and aid relaxation.

My Approach

When a client is suffering with a stiff, sore neck; upper back ache &/or shoulder restriction and sharp pain, my approach is to consider the body as a whole. I don’t just work on ‘parts’ of the body or the ‘bits’ that hurt. Each session is a full body treatment including tiny, at times incredibly powerful, moves at the base of the skull and down the neck. I advise an initial course of 3 appointments, each a week apart and for these clients, I would include the superb Bowen shoulder procedure too.

The Support Your Deserve

As well as a ‘hands-on’ physical therapy such as Bowen, I would gently advise they wear a correctly fitting bra. In addition, if they use a bag with a long strap, I would note its weight and which shoulder it hung from. As is frequently the case, I would recommend replacing it with a trendy backpack to spread the load more equally across the body and to relieve the weight on one shoulder.

In conclusion, I take a holistic approach at every session by incorporating the appropriate Bowen moves, and looking out for less obvious details which will often make a dramatic difference to the outcome.

*  Optimising breast support in female patients through correct bra fit. A cross-sectional study.
Deirdre E McGhee1, Julie R Steele  DOI: 10.1016/j.jsams.2010.03.003