The sports bra is an essential piece of workout "equipment" that keeps the girls in place while the rest of your body endures the pain of no gain. While it's essentially intended to hold the breasts tightly against your body, the sports bra feels like a necessary evil. For some, the discomfort of excessive sweating and compression is too much to bear, leaving them to go commando when exercising. The long-term effects of this decision continue to be a hot topic of debate among medical and fitness professionals.
Breast pain is a common experience by women, according to Indiana University Bloomington in their online guide "Breast Problems." "Jogger's breast," explains the Sports Injury Clinic, is a painful condition typically caused by lack of adequate support of the Cooper's ligaments that hold the breasts up. Without support of these ligaments, the pendulous breasts can cause stretching of the tissues as well as trauma to the underlying skin if a woman has larger breasts. The pain caused by unsupported breast tissue can lead a woman to discontinue exercises that make the pain worse.
Long-term exercise is great for your cardiovascular health, but it's also hard on the ligaments and skin of your breasts. In addition, without the support of a sports bra, the repetitive up-and-down or side-to-side motion of your breasts can cause injuries to the muscles and ligaments in your shoulders, neck and back, according to Harvard Medical School in their online publication "Breast Pain: Not Just a Premenopausal Complaint." Over a long period of time, relatively minor injuries caused by lack of breast support can lead to more serious conditions such as compression fractures in the vertebrae of your neck and spine and chronic back pain.
Unfortunately, Cooper's ligaments are not strong and the long-term pulling caused by exercise without a sports bra can cause sagging. Additionally, side-to-side movement when exercising can also cause pulling of these ligaments and skin, lengthening them as they lose elasticity. Over time, the breast tissue and skin can elongate irreversibly. The elongation of the skin and breast tissue also causes additional movement of the breasts that can increase the pulling of the tissue when exercising. Women who have smaller breasts tend to have less sagging but as they age, skin loses elasticity that can lead to stretching.
Sports bras provide more than just support. The fabric of the bra also creates a barrier between the skin of the abdomen and the skin at the underside of each breast. Without that barrier, explains dermatologist Dr. Cynthia Bailey in her online publication "Intertrigo: A Red Rash in The Skin Folds," a painful and itchy rash can develop. This condition can be made even worse if infection or yeast infections develop, leading to more irritation. Choosing to wear a sports bra when this condition has already developed can be particularly uncomfortable and make the pain and itching worse.
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