It’s not just super busty women who have problems with shoulder and necks hurting from sports bras. Shoulder and neck digging isn’t just insanely uncomfortable, it is actually damaging. To name a few it can cause severe headaches, nerve damage over time, and poor posture which can lead to back problems. Many women actually have a permanent indention their shoulders from years of digging. Chiropractors often suggest getting a different sports bra when patient athletes show up with problems exacerbated from digging straps but which “different sports bra”?
Is it the type of shoulder straps you’re wearing? Is it the wrong size? Do more expensive bras not dig? How about padded straps on a sports bra? What’s the answer????
With just a simple google search “why does sports bras hurt my shoulders” you can see this question has been posted numerous times with a myriad of answers and suggested solutions. A common suggested solution from “sports bra experts and professionals” is to opt for encapsulation styles or a combination or encapsulation and compression in your sports bra. I agree with the latter in some cases where the bust sizes are above DDD but I definitely do not agree with just simple encapsulation being the answer.
How do I know? Because I’m a sports bra developer who has fitted thousands of athletes and equestrians in sports bras who come to me screaming about shoulder and neck digging. After we solve their problem, I explain to them in simple terms what was causing the shoulder digging and why what I put them in stopped the problem.
Without boring you with why this and that doesn’t work, its easier to choose a solution when you are looking at the situation super objectively. The situation is breast mass, gravity, breast weight, and the force resulting from movement.
The nature of encapsulation only addresses mass and gravity. Which is fine if you are standing still. What about weight and force? Once you start intensely moving in an encapsulation bra you will be very quickly and rudely introduced to weight and force. Simply put, simple encapsulation lacks the LEVERAGE to address weight and force.
The reason why your shoulder straps are digging doesn’t lie in the shoulder strap itself – that is just where the structural problem MANIFESTS. The structural problem is that 1) the hammock of your sports bra is too brief (too short on the torso), 2) you do not have enough coverage above the breast region, and 2) the bra itself isn’t strong enough.
- Hammock of the bra is too brief. Does your sports bra lay high on your torso? Most sports bras do and that’s a problem.
When your sports bra lays high on your torso it forces the breast tissue upward (weight against gravity) and your shoulders and neck are what is leveraging that breast weight. Yes, the old lady in the bra store will try to tell you that the under band is what is supporting the weight but we all know that is not what happens in reality. It is physically impossible for an under band to provide the majority of support for the breasts above it. Again, lack of leverage. Movement creates breast tissue force, meaning the weight increases dramatically during movement/exercise.
- Your sports bra doesn’t cover the area ABOVE the breast region. Stopping the initial upward motion of the breasts during movement is the key to comfort. It takes much less tension to stop breast tissue from going up than it does “catching” them on the way down.
- Your sports bra isn’t strong enough. “Tight” and strong are NOT the same thing. Tight feels like a bind, strong feels like a squeeze. Tight digs, strong does not. To eliminate shoulder and neck digging the fabric components of the bra around the chest must be so strong that it almost feels like a bandeau. The bottom line is that the support for your breasts is distributed throughout a larger area (i.e. the upper torso) and DOES NOT depend on the straps for the heavy lifting.
The Cheata Trotter bra is a great example of an extremely strong sports bra with a dramatically lowered hammock and coverage above the bust line. The Cheata Trotter works best for any breast size up to a size E. For sizes above E you will have difficulty getting the needed coverage over the breast region.
The Enell bra is an extremely strong bra that many full chested athletes and equestrians swear by. The Enell uses a method of encapsulation combined with compression. This bra covers the bust region completely. In my bra fitting experience, women who have very full cups sizes of E and above with an extremely small under band size (like a 32 F) have the best experience with Enell. If you are more straight up and down like I am (I’m a 36DD) the higher hammock on the Enell didn’t provide enough leverage. I still bounced and the under band dug on me.
If you are C cup or less the Enlite bra from Lululemon is another great option of a sports bra with a lowered hammock and coverage above the bust region. For D cup or above you might have a little trouble because of the fabric strength.
There is no such thing as a sports bra that is going to be perfect for everyone. There are just too many body types, shapes, individual needs, and individual wants. But to specifically address what to do about your shoulders hurting from you sports bra I suggest opting for sports bras that feature the things mentioned. The difference for your shoulders will be night and day.