Four in 10 female horse riders experience breast pain while in the saddle, the recently published findings of an online survey suggest.
The in-depth online survey was completed by 1324 female horse riders. It showed that breast pain and other bra-related issues increased with cup size and body mass.
The research was carried out by Dr Jenny Burbage, of the Department of Sport and Exercise Science at England’s University of Portsmouth, and Lorna Cameron, an equine expert from Sparsholt College Hampshire.
“For female horse riders, breast pain, bra issues and having large breasts may be important concerns which have yet to be considered,” said Burbage, the lead author of the study and a member of Portsmouth’s Research Group in Breast Health.
“Previous studies have investigated breast pain and bra issues in the general population and a marathon-running population, but this is the first time research has investigated a horse-riding population.
“Breast pain, breast size and bra issues can impact upon the performance, health and wellbeing of women and should be investigated, as they can be a barrier to participation in physical activity.”
The findings have been published in the Journal of Sports Sciences. The study found that breast pain was experienced most frequently during the sitting trot, and that 21 per cent of participants with symptoms reported that breast pain affected their horse riding performance.
The trot and canter involve large vertical movements of the horse’s body, requiring considerable effort by the rider to maintain postural stability. This effort may be higher for women with larger breasts due to the greater breast momentum created, which may affect their performance and overall experience in horse riding.
The authors concluded that educational initiatives were needed to ensure female horse riders were informed about appropriate bra fit and breast support during horse riding to increase comfort and help reduce the potential negative associations with performance.
Previous research has suggested that 70 to 100 per cent of women are wearing the wrong-sized bra.
Burbage said: “A correctly fitting bra for exercise is essential, as an incorrect fit can contribute to upper body musculoskeletal problems, poor posture and deep bra furrows in the shoulder caused by excessive strap pressure.
“It is particularly important for women with large breasts to wear a well-fitted and supportive bra, as insufficient support for large breasts can lead to upper body pain and poor posture, yet they are more likely to have an incorrect fit.”
A correctly fitting supportive bra would be of benefit not just to the rider, the authors believe. A previous study has shown that horse heart rate increases as a direct response to tension in the handler or rider.
Of the 532 participants who reported experiencing breast pain, 60 per cent reported that it was always or sometimes linked to their menstrual cycle and 29 per cent felt their breast pain was either sometimes, very often or always a result or horse riding.
Over half of symptomatic participants described the severity of their breast pain as discomforting (56 per cent), with eight per cent describing it as distressing, horrible or excruciating.
Although sports bras were the most frequent type of bra worn for horse riding, only 14 per cent of small-breasted riders and 19 per cent of large-breasted riders opted to exclusively wear a sports bra when they rode a horse.
This compares to 82 per cent and 91 per cent of marathon runners who reported always wearing a sports bra when they took part in moderate or vigorous physical activity respectively.
“Perhaps this is due to the vast majority of sports bras available for purchase being marketed towards runners, leading to the perception that sports bra use during other sports such as horse-riding is not important,” Burbage said.
“More work needs to be done in the bra industry to improve shoulder strap design, as well as more awareness of how shoulder straps should fit in order to improve the wearer experience.
“It is especially important that larger-breasted riders, who experienced breast pain and bra issues more frequently, are educated in the importance of appropriate breast support during horse riding.
“Resources should be specifically developed to help educate female horse riders and raise awareness of appropriate breast support for this activity.”
According to a Sport England report from 2011, 90 per cent of horse riders are female, with about 304,000 women in England taking part in equestrian activities at least once a week.