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Sports Bra Risks: If You Wear One Often, You Need To Read This

Dr. Lisa Lawless

Dr. Lisa Lawless, CEO of Holistic Wisdom
Clinical Psychotherapist: Relationship & Sexual Health Expert

sports bra on the floor

What's Wrong With Wearing A Sports Bra?

When it comes to exercise, proper support is crucial for avoiding discomfort, chafing, and damage to breast tissue so sports bras are often worn to prevent these issues. However, according to research, wearing a sports bra that tightly compresses breasts can increase the risk of excess buildup of lymph node fluid in the breast which may cause lumps. Below, I will review which sports bras are better than others.

Not All Lumps Are Not Bad

If you develop a lump, it is good to note that it may not be a blocked lymph gland, cyst or breast cancer. Some lumps in the breast are temporary due to fluctuations in hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.

Potential signs that you have a lymph blockage are discomfort in your breast, a lump, and pain when sleeping on your back when your breast settles closer to the armpit, which is near the lymph glands.

If you find a lump and it persists, it is painful, or you have skin changes or drainage from the nipple, please see a healthcare professional right away. While it may not be a health risk, the sooner you can be evaluated, the more options for management and treatment you will have if it is deemed necessary.

lymphatic system of the chest diagram

What Is The Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system is a crucial player in our physical well-being as it helps to regulate the fluid levels in our body tissue, which is vital for maintaining healthy blood pressure and preventing swelling. It absorbs fats from the digestive tract and boosts our immune system by producing immune cells that monitor and destroy foreign things entering our body, like bacteria and viruses.

lymphatic system diagram

What Else Can Block The Lymphatic System?

The lymphatic system can become blocked due to any type of compression around the chest, so it is not just sports bras that can cause issues. Snug garments like tight bras, corsets or gender-affirming chest binders can put too much pressure on the chest when worn for long periods and often. In addition, mothers who put unnecessary pressure on their breasts while nursing can also be at risk.

Other Health Concerns

It should also be noted that tight bras or anything that compresses the chest can also potentially lead to difficulty breathing, heartburn, skin infections, rashes, and posture issues.

In addition, compression is not the only cause of lymph blockages; infections and immune disorders such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis can also cause it.

Additional Causes Of Lymphatic Obstruction

Lymphatic obstruction may cause lymphedema, which means swelling due to a blockage of the lymph passages. Treatment for lymphedema is usually non-invasive, but surgery may be required in severe cases.

Typical treatment for lymphedema includes:

  • Warm compresses
  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Rest
  • Strategic compression (usually with wrapping in bandages)
  • Manual lymph drainage (MLD)
  • Range of motion or resistance exercises

How To Prevent Lymph Blockages?

What You Need To Know About Bras

Avoiding wearing a sports bra for long periods or forgoing them can be helpful, but did you know there are different types of sports bras, and two of them may be better for your breast health?encapsulation vs. compression sports bras diagram

The Different Types Of Sports Bras

In the world of sports bras, there are compression sports bras and encapsulation sports bras as well as a combination of the two. Encapsulation sports bras use individual cups to surround and support each breast separately and have no compression. These bras are ideal for low-impact activities and keep from compressing breast tissue, which can block lymphatic drainage.

How To Wear Bras For Your Health

Wearing the appropriate bra for your breast size and shape is also essential. Most wear a bra for at least 10–12 hours daily, so ensuring that any underwires are not hitting or stabbing tender breast tissue is important.

Wearing a sports bra is fine as long as you wear it for activities like exercise but make sure to put on a better-suited bra once you are done if it is causing compression.

A bra will be most comfortable and healthy to wear if you can easily get two fingers under the band. You should also be able to breathe in them comfortably, and when you remove them, there should not be deep imprints from the bra digging into your skin. Sleeping in bras is fine if you wear a bra without an underwire to avoid constricting and pinching.

Lymph Massage Or Manual Lymph Drainage (MLD)

In addition to reducing the use of compressing garments, lymphatic drainage massage to the chest can help prevent blockages and lumps as it encourages proper drainage from your lymph nodes. It is often used by cancer patients, but if you wear sports bras, chest binders, or other restrictive clothing around the breasts, it can be a useful preventative measure or in possible treatment for blocked lymph glands.


Make sure to speak with your healthcare provider before doing a lymphatic massage to review any concerns and ask for their insights about doing it. There are some conditions where lymphatic drainage massage is not recommended, such as when one has a heart condition, kidney failure, or blood clots.

Chest Massage For Lymphatic Drainage

How To Do A Lymphatic Drainage Chest Massage

  • Approach the massage with a gentle touch, using several small strokes.
  • Beginning near your underarm on the side of your body, gradually and deliberately move across your chest towards the other underarm.
  • As you gently stretch the skin, allow it to move comfortably. Release any tension or discomfort by taking deep breaths and relaxing the body thoroughly. You may wish to use massage oil to help your hand flow more easily across the skin.
  • Repetition is usually recommended, with 10 to 15 repetitions being ideal.
  • Regularly incorporating lymphatic drainage massage into your self-care routine may support your body's optimal health and well-being.

In Closing

By being mindful of clothing choices, eating a healthy diet, staying active, and getting enough rest, you can support your lymphatic system and help it to function at its best. After all, we want you to have the health and wellness you deserve!

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