Friday, November 21, 2014

Bras in the Time of Pain Management

This post has a little something for everyone (well, except for pain-free guys who don't like shopping). If you're into bras, we've got it. Like to purchase vicariously? Check! Have you been dealing with some pain? I sure as hell hope not but, if yes, there is definitely some useful intel below.

For starters, I don't think one needs to worry much that very snug bra bands will cause chronic pain (particularly if the cups of the bra fit well). And, as I've said 8000 times, for proportionately large, heavy breasts a taut band is the secret to "lift" that those with less large and/or heavy breasts need not concern themselves about. Mind you, if you're in pain (for whatever reason, but especially if it's musculoskeletal or neurochemically motivated) and that pain happens to live in your mid/upper back, the likelihood is that a taut band is going to torment you and, sadly, exacerbate the underlying issues.

I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. Especially since I have 4 drawers of bras in 30 and 32 bands that I simply cannot wear at the moment.

One thing's for certain, though, you may feel like shit but you can still look fantastic and, take it from me, it's important to care about looking fantastic until you're cold in the grave. It's what sets us apart from the animals.

After 2 weeks of wearing an ugly bralet to work, I felt so demoralized I could barely stand it. Happily, the problem was resolved, via online and in store methods, just yesterday. But before we check out the loot, let's talk about the plan...

Kristin's Guide To Buying Bras When You're Managing Pain Exacerbated By Wearing Bras:
  • Know when it's time to bite the bullet. If you keep waiting for the problem to resolve so that you don't have to spend money on bras that you hope won't be required for very long, you're going to suffer for longer than you have to. You might even find yourself wearing a bralet to work.
  • Shop locally. I know I'm big-time down with the online bra shopping - though I have resorted to an online purchase in this instance - but, unless you are seriously competent in the ways of buying bras online, you gotta manage this in a boutique. The secret to ensuring that you'll end up with a bra that works is to try on 8000 of them, of all styles and brands - and in numerous sizes within each style. This isn't workable online. Yeah, it's going to cost more.
  • Make sure you understand your pain and where it originates from (to the very best of your ability) before you go shopping. Is it neuro-muscular (and this shit's a bitch that likes to hide)? Are you managing an acute injury that isn't healing quickly? Did you just have an operation? Are you in treatment for breast cancer? If you're pain is referring on account of wires, you need to go wire free (if at all possible). If it's worsened by pressure on straps, you've got to find some wider straps. Meditate on the issue - and I know that's not difficult when all you can think about is the pain you don't want to think about.
  • Be prepared to spend. You're in pain. Buy the bra that works, even if it's out of the budget. Your very being will thank you. And the comfortable bra will pay for itself many times over.
  • Be upfront with the SA about what's going on. Explain your issue clearly. Ask to work with someone who's knowledgeable in this arena. Don't be afraid to say: No, this one doesn't feel right either. I went into the store with the following objective, which I expressed immediately: I need an attractive bra that provides support, recognizing that a band that puts any significant pressure on my back ribs is a no go. Though my under bust is 30.5 29.5-30 inches (just remeasured for kicks) in circumference, I'm interested in trying 34 or even 36 bands (if the brand runs very tight in the band).
  • Get over your fears (about buying a bra under these circumstances). This is a solution-oriented exercise. If a 36 band is ridiculously loose, you'll move on. If a bra hurts, you'll put it back. Trust me, there's a bra out there that will work for you and that will not worsen your problem.
  • Give extra consideration to brands that focus on wide bands (to displace weight) of 3+ hooks and eyes. If a long line works, all the better. Sport bras can also work, but compression can be a problem over the long run and, man, those bras are not pretty. (Nor can you wear anything lower than a crew neck while you're in one.) A brand known for super tight bands (Cleo, anyone?) likely isn't the one for you. Sure, you can go up 2 band sizes - but then the proportions of the cups is likely to go all wonky.  
  • Also, remember that the minute the band rides up, the bra doesn't work and it's likely to contribute to pain in the long run. You've got to walk a fine line between a band that holds things in place but that doesn't cinch things. Ordinarily, I espouse that the band size should more or less mimic your under bust size (accounting for things like a very muscular frame). If your under bust is 30.5", you probably want to wear a 30 or 32 band. When back pain is an issue, you might need to go with a +2-3 band (2-3 inches larger than the under bust). That veers dangerously close to the debunked "plus 4 method" but you only need to do this while there's pain.
  • Don't go for the skinny straps (they can cause or worsen trigger points). Go with the snuggest band that doesn't worsen pain and then use an extender when you're having a particularly bad day.
I wish I could tell you the best styles for managing your particular pain but, here's the thing, I'm new to this gig (and I'm not intending to be here long!). Furthermore, your pain is as unique as mine and everyone else's. This is a trial and error exercise that requires your sincerest engagement.

Here's what I opted to do: I decided to supplement my regular bra wardrobe with 2 new offerings designed to help when the pain is in flare: a basic (but pretty) beige bra and a basic (but pretty) black bra. Both work well under all outfits. Each is a bra I'm either very familiar with (through years of wear in other sizes) or the brand is one that works well for me. I went for each in a 34 band (which means I had to size down in the cups). I have colour coordinated extenders, which I use, as necessary. These match with any beige or black undies (though I've bought more in both colours) so that I don't have to wear unmatched sets in this challenging time. Unmatched sets are the worst.

Fantasie Smoothing Underwire Balconette (4520)

I so wish I could find a version of this bra that actually fits the model, but this one's a toughie on many figures. It either works or it doesn't. And, happily, it works for me - though the proportions of the 34 back are a bit odd. The wires are trending slightly too wide and there's a bit of rippling in the (molded but soft-cup/unpadded) fabric because it's slightly too full in the upper cup for me in the new size. Mind you, there's lift and separation happening and the lines of this bra are very attractive on me (which is why I've been wearing it as my standard T shirt bra for more than a decade). The 34 band is adequately snug so that there's no riding up (but not in a way that makes the pain worse). Wearing this with an extender is tricky because the proportions are already a bit wide for my narrow frame. I'm not opposed to unhooking it at 3pm when I'm sitting at my desk and no one's around. The straps on this bra are quite comfortable (but they don't look wide) and the under wires are very firm - so they support. Of course, if under bust pain is your issue, you've got to be careful about overly firm wires.

I bought this online, given my longstanding experience of it. It was 50 bucks all in. A bargain, IMO.

Empreinte Melody Full Cup (0786)

Here's the thing about Empreinte bras - the brand is French. Those people don't do full-cups. They do full balconettes and call them a full cup. This is a molded bra (like the Fantasie above) - unlined /unpadded.

Silver lining!: I've always wanted this bra but, in the 32 band, the cups aren't the right shape for me. Remember, molded bras don't have seams (which allow for better fit). So a molded bra either fits or it doesn't. Empreinte changes its wires with every band size and cup size. Because a 32F doesn't have the same wire size and cup proportions as a 34E (the way most brands cut costs and "sister size"), every combination of cup and band size is a new opportunity for the shape to work.

So, in a 34 back, this bra works and, as per most of Empreinte's offerings, it looks fantastic on Kristin. Here's a video that shows it on a real person, fitting pretty well (except for a bit of weirdness on the upper side band which is truly not problematic for the model). It really looks that good.

Empreinte makes angled bands, to ensure best alignment on the back, and as a result, they don't need to be tight in order to be supportive. There are 3 hooks and eyes and, as a design feature, the straps on this style are wide and slightly padded. As always, the wires and gores are narrow but this shape is not as projected as some of the other styles. Molded bras are never as projected as seamed bras, one of the reasons that women with projected breasts either swim in them (in a size too large) or bust out at the upper cups.

The silhouette is lifted and round. No, it's not boobs on a plate (the photo makes that clear) but it is very elegant and sophisticated. This isn't a "youthful" bra but it's not in any way frumpy. It's understated and sexy and it's designed to ensure your comfort (if you're pain-free) or to facilitate comfort when you're working with pain.

This one ain't cheap. It was 200 bucks all in but it's a gem. It isn't easy to spend that amount when one is trying to save money - and given that the goal is to not need to wear it for long. But I'm following my own advice. It's worth that price to feel gorgeous and comfortable at a time when those things are elusive. And even when this pain goes (mercifully we're making strides, peeps, but I can see it's complicated and it's going to take time), I'm well aware that it is likely to recur, at least until menopause.

So, there you go. Whatcha think of these bras? Or my methodology? Or the brands? Or the spree? Let's talk!


  1. My shoulders don't like bras any more... not at all. (36F/G)

    I said to heck with it and started making corsets, which wouldn't help you all that much (compression being how the breasts are held up, although I find the weight is mostly on my lower back, not upper) but may help someone else here.

    And hey, I have range-of-motion in my shoulders when I'm wearing one! Win.

    1. I get that! My shoulders don't like anything right now! I love the idea of a corset if it works - for me right now it would not. But I agree, it's a great option and it's terrific that you've found something that works for you. Just make sure you monitor, strengthen and stretch your low back so that the weight distribution there doesn't lead to problems in the future!

  2. I'm so glad you've found something that will work for you! I think the 'spree' is perfectly reasonable. You'd gladly pay that much for physiotherapy and/or yoga sessions to get some pain relief - so why not spend it on something that you are wearing every day?

    1. Well, in truth I'm also spending on body work, but what price health?? I wore the Empreinte last night and it was truly pleasant.

  3. Have you tried sitting against a wall, putting a tennis ball between you and the wall and rolling the ball around the area of the pain? i have done this with shoulder knots and while it is incredibly painful while doing that, it feels much better afterward. Ask your chiropractor what she thinks. My chiro taught me this trick initially for my piriformis muscle (sitting on the tennis ball and rolling it on my pressure point) and then I used it on my own for shoulder knots.

    1. I have - and I have a thing called an acuball (tiny version in blue with little bumps on it). I highly recommend it and you can get it online. Thing is, I've got some neuro-excitability issues going on (though much improved in last 3 weeks) so my chiropractor wants me to avoid moving into the trigger points too actively in the interests of not stimulating my nervous system unduly. For example, she's suggesting that I avoid massage for a couple more weeks (and then only do trigger point or deep tissue massage - to address the specific sort of pain reflex I've got happening).

      BTW, K, what I LOVE and you might love it too is an accupressure mat. One brand is called Shakti mat and there's a very good and affordable version called Prosource (I think) on eBay. I have the mat and the pillow and it's like lying on a bed of nails. It disrupts my neuromuscular pain loop (kind of like a TENs machine, but old school), effectively by confusing it with other (but evenly distributed) pain. I highly recommend it - gonna do a post on it at some point (just trying not to bore everyone to bits with constant talk of pain therapy techniques).

  4. I'm so sorry you are in pain! As always I love how you are intellectualizing it and finding solutions that are helpful to your situation - also an important part of helping yourself through a difficult time! Feel better!!

    1. Thanks hon. I don't know how much intellectualizing is going to assist in this situation :-) Let's just say I'm trying to get in touch with my emotional triggers too!

  5. If you're comfortable and you enjoy wearing the bras, then it was money well spent. I spent $350 last weekend on 3 bras (and for the first time, bought the matching panties). I wasn't motivated by pain but poor fit. I I truly hope you feel better soon.

    1. Hey - poor fit can lead to pain. And it's never lovely. So good on you! Enjoy.

  6. I'm very sorry that you have to deal with pain now, wish you that it will be relieved soon.
    I really like your approach. I can' agree more that if you can afford something that lightens your spirit and makes you more comfortable and helps with pain issues than it's a very reasonable thing to do just go for it, even if price seems to be out of the comfort zone.