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Are your boobs hurting your back?

Breast size fluctuates several times during our lifetimes and this change can often lead to back pain for many women. During pregnancy, changes begin early in the first trimester, and many women whose non-pregnant breasts never contributed to back strain begin feeling the effects. Increased breast size and weight can lead to or worsen headaches and back, neck and shoulder pain for many pregnant and nursing women. While the most dramatic changes happen during pregnancy and the postpartum period, the changes are ongoing throughout our life cycles and the impacts on our posture are similar.

Increased breast weight and size change your center of gravity and impact your posture. This can exacerbate our tendency to roll our shoulders forward and collapses our chest muscles which can result in pain in the neck, shoulders, and upper back. These changes in posture can further lead to headaches and low back pain. And for some women, it can contribute to "thoracic outlet syndrome" - putting enough pressure in the shoulders (combined with overall fluid retention) to compress a group of nerves and arteries producing pain, numbness and tingling in the hands, wrists and forearms.

As your shoulders round forward and hunch up toward your ears, your chest muscles collapse and your rib cage is restricted. This further restricts your breathing and can contribute to shortness of breath and shallow breathing. For many people, this shortness of breath can leave you feeling tense and anxious, and even lead to headaches.

Ideally the weight of your breasts is supported by your core postural muscles. But we kinda aren't very good at holding up our own weight in our culture. Given that we sit and we don't do big movements like pushing, pulling and hanging (climbing trees, anybody???), we struggle to accommodate that change in size.

In addition to exercise to strengthen your upper body, the proper bra can make all the difference (though, of course, some women are more comfortable without a bra). This might be particularly helpful at times when your breast size changes more quickly and your muscles have not had enough time to catch up. It is worth getting re-fitted whenever you buy new bras to make sure you have the proper support.

A well-designed bra that really does fit is going to provide support from the band and cups, not the straps. A bra that doesn't provide enough support or fits poorly, such as relying on the straps (particularly if the straps are digging in to your shoulders) is going to wreak havoc on your posture, putting pressure on your shoulders, forcing your shoulders to roll forward, straining your neck and upper back.

Steps to prevent your boobs from being a pain in your back:

    * Get properly fitted for a bra and check on your size as your body shifts through pregnancy, breastfeeding and fluctations in your weight. A quick search online will give you various methods of self-measuring, but the best way to get fitted properly is go to a good department store.

    * Maintain proper posture and ergonomics. Whether it's sitting at your desk typing or holding your baby for breastfeeding, proper alignment of the spine is key. Be sure to always keep your shoulders down and back. If you are not sure what "good posture" is - please check-in with me or a yoga teacher.

    * Yoga and massage can help you relax and strengthen those shoulder and neck muscles, and your chest muscles

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