Breasts are everywhere. In the media, breast talk can range from cancer to sexualization. But when it comes to how large breasts adversely affect women, coverage is limited.
Women need to take care of their breasts, support them properly and know the consequences of having a big bust. When it comes to breasts, larger is not always better.
Images of women in the media are often photoshopped with large breasts and are unrealistically proportioned. Often young women exposed to these images are left unsatisfied with their own bodies. When you add body image into the world of sports, social and physical difficulties arise for women who are well-endowed.
24-year-old Megan Wood has dealt with these problems for years. Growing up in Calgary, she played softball and wrestled competitively with the Junior Dinos wrestling club and her high-school team. She currently works in a corporate environment after completing an international relations degree at the University of Calgary. Throughout her life, she has dealt with numerous issues with an above-average cup size, including taunting when she was younger and discomfort in the workplace.
"I have had big boobs since I was 12," she said. "I think it comes to a certain point that, if you have boobs, you can't pretend that you don't have them. At work you try to cover them up more. Obviously you can't be provocative, especially in a corporate atmosphere."
Finding the proper bra support when playing sports has been especially difficult for Wood.
"After a long day on the [baseball] diamond it got to be a lot. You don't want it to be a concern, but it is because of the weight. You normally block a ball with your body-- you want to put your body behind the ball to stop it. You don't want it to get past you. Taking the ball to the chest when you have large boobs sucks. There is no way around it-- bruising your chest is not fun."
The stares that Wood received when she wore her wrestling singlet during competitions made her very uncomfortable. She would often have to wear two sports bras for support. "I think the biggest issue is not bras for daily use, because there are lingerie companies that cater to larger breasts, but getting a sports bra is really hard."
Wood experienced less pain during competitions than while cross-training and found running stairs to be the worst activity due to the jarring motion on the chest.
Zuzana Triska, a physiotherapist with the Advanced Spinal Care Centre, has many female clients who suffer from back pain due to their larger cup size.
"Symptoms include mid-back, neck, low-back and shoulder pain, not necessarily all of those, but a combination," said Triska. "The one factor that they all have in common is that they carry excessive weight on their chests, which results in increased compressive forces through different sections of the spine and also through the shoulder girdle."
Weight on the chest pulls women forward and back muscles constantly fight against that pull, said Triska.
"[Women] are constantly attached to their breasts," she said. "They are constantly having to counteract that weight pulling their chest forward by their musculature surrounding the spine, so they tend to complain of tightness in the muscles."
Triska said a massage or dry needling helps with the tightness, but the relief is temporary.
There are many treatments, including weight loss, physiotherapy, cortisone injections and strengthening spinal muscles. In her experience, Triska has seen many women find long-term relief by having breast reduction surgery.
"Some [women] have done well trying to strengthen their spine to counteract that pull from their chest, but some people find that strengthening only improves their symptoms somewhat. No matter how much they try to strengthen their back, it doesn't really seem to give them the type of relief that they want. So they decide to have breast reduction."
Triska said women who are considering breast implants should be warned-- the sudden increase in breast size can be difficult for bodies to adjust to.
"It is mostly the spine muscles that are just not prepared to take that extra weight on so suddenly," she said. "Whereas if it's something where you are growing breasts, year by year they are getting bigger, your body actually has a better chance to adapt to that. There are some women who have large breasts who adapted well and don't seem to complain. But there is definitely a correlation between large breasts and back pain and shoulder pain."
Research at the University of Utah in 2009 found proof of the physical benefits of breast reduction surgery. Objective data were limited prior to the study and the study's results sparked debate regarding insurance coverage and reimbursement for such procedures.
The study tested the biomechanical stress of the spine of women with macromastia-- larger than average breast size-- before and after breast reduction surgery. The results were conclusive: "The reductions in biomechanical stress and disability reported here provide objective evidence to strengthen the argument that reduction mammaplasty surgery is medically necessary and more than a cosmetic procedure."
There are solutions and treatments for macromastia, but the first step is to support shoulder weight.
"If you are in sports that require jarring-- jumping or running-- then you are going to require adequate support to be comfortable doing those sports," said Triska. "The key is to have a really well-fitted bra."
Wood is not considering breast reduction surgery and, despite issues she has faced, she has always been comfortable with her body. However, the reaction of others and maintaining her health have sometimes been negative experiences.
"There are pros to having big boobs and their are cons to having big boobs," she said. "It is easier recognize the good in it now. They are boobs-- don't let them make or break you."