“Bouncing is a big issue,” said Larson, 29. “It’s uncomfortable, plus I would really get rubbed raw.”
Breast support is not just about comfort. A good supportive bra may help protect the skin, ligaments and tissue that keep the breast from getting stretched out as a woman ages, according to Rockville plastic surgeon Gregory Dick. When these types of tissue lose their elasticity, the breasts lose their natural shapeliness and become droopy.
“Wearing a supportive bra to exercise may help minimize the damage,” he said.
A woman who wears a DD bra carries about 12 pounds of weight on her chest, which can cause back pain, a problem that often leads to the pursuit of breast-reduction surgery, Dick explains. By shifting some of that weight, the right bra may relieve that pain as well as improve posture.
Perhaps not surprisingly, good breast support is particularly important for women engaged in high-impact sports such as running.
“Breasts are made up of mostly soft, elastic tissues and don’t have much in the way of firm internal support structures to keep them from stretching and bouncing during exercise,” says LaJean Lawson, who has conducted sports bra research at the biomechanics lab at Oregon State University in Corvallis for more than 25 years. “The larger your cup size, the greater the forces on the breast and the more intense the accelerations that need to be restricted so you can exercise pain-free.”
Studies conducted by researchers at the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom suggest that the sometimes dramatic weight shift that comes from bouncing or swinging breasts can affect a runner’s gait and lead to injury.
“Appropriate breast support is encouraged during running to minimize breast discomfort and reduce potential injury risk,” says Jenny White, a lead author of a 2009 study published in the British journal Ergonomics.
The demand for larger-size bras in general is going up.
The most popular bra size today is 36 DD, up from a 36C in 2000, according to the Intimate Apparel Council, an industry trade group. (The difference translates roughly to two inches around the fullest part of the breast, a change widely attributed to the popularity of breast enhancement surgery and to the obesity epidemic.) Revenue from the sale of bras with cups size C or larger increased by 5.1 percent over the past year, compared with a 2.9 percent increase for all bras, according to NPD, an independent market research firm in New York.
But for larger-busted women especially, finding a properly fitting bra can be difficult. Larson resigned herself to making several visits a year from her home in Alexandria to a corsetiere in New Jersey.