University study looks at the impact of doing exercise on women’s breasts

The markers on the breast assessed movement during excercise Photo: University of Portsmouth

One of the most comprehensive studies ever undertaken into women’s breast movement during exercise has been carried out by scientists.

The study at the University of Portsmouth reveals in detail exactly where, and by how much, the breast moves during running and provides the most accurate picture to date of where the breast needs support during exercise.

It is also the first study to examine strain – extension of a distance between two points.

The women ran on a treadmill with the breast markers tracked by a high-speed camera system measuring breast movement, velocity, acceleration and breast strain.

Participants ran first without a bra, then in a regular ‘T-shirt bra’ and finally in a range of sports bras.

The researchers then calculated percentage reductions provided by the sports bras across all measurements compared with the no-bra conditions.

The research of 36 women reveals that the amount of movement across different areas of the breast differs significantly and demonstrates where support is needed most.

Dr Alex Milligan from the University’s Internationally Recognised Breast Health Research Group said that the study had shed more light on what they already knew about breast movement during exercise.“This latest research is one of the most comprehensive examinations undertaken of breast movement during exercise. "The results reveal a great deal more than we knew before about how the breast moves while running and therefore how best to protect and support the breast and its delicate tissue.“We’ve known for some time that the breast moves not just up and down but also from side to side and in and out. And we know there is a strong link between breast movement and breast pain. "Now we can see exactly where the breast is moving and by how much, which will help us reduce breast pain even more effectively.”Dr Joanna Scurr, who leads the Breast Health Research Group, said that if breast movement is not reduced, women risk damaging the fragile Cooper’s ligaments which, once damaged, are irreparable.“When the breast is not supported correctly and there is tension on the ligaments and skin of the breast, it can result in strain and over time this may lead to a stretching of the breasts natural support, which could lead to permanent breast damage.“Strain of the skin and the breast tissues occurs during movement due to the deformable properties of the breast tissue itself. Strain of these tissues may cause permanent damage to the supporting structures of the breast leading to breast sag, and has previously linked to breast pain (i.e. stretching and tension placed on the skin and Cooper’s ligaments). Any reduction in strain would reduce the risk of damage to the breast tissues and ensure females are able to exercise in comfort.

“This important research helps us to identify products that are effective at protecting the breasts. Reducing strain across the mid and upper parts of the breast will reduce the risk of damage to the internal structures of the breast.”

The research was funded and undertaken on behalf of sports brand, Freya Active. The University of Portsmouth researchers do not endorse or recommend any one brand of sports bra but hope that the results of the study will be used to better inform future bra design.

Dr Scurr said: “Ultimately we hope that the research will encourage more women to use appropriate breast support when exercising.”