10 Things to Try if RA Makes Wearing a Bra Painful

by Lene Andersen, MSW Patient Advocate

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects everything about your life, including the clothes you wear. Talk to anyone who regularly wears a bra and you’re likely to hear complaints about it. For those with RA, bras can be especially challenging in terms of comfort level, as well as the manual dexterity required to put one on. We crowdsourced bra tips and recommendations from those who know best: people in the RA community (quotes may have been edited for length or style).

Woman measuring her bust size.

Get the Best Fit From Your Bra

“I have a terrible time finding ones that fit.” – Angela

Have you heard the statistic that 80 percent of women wear the wrong bra? This is not entirely supported by scientific evidence, but it’s probably fair to say that many do wear the wrong size. A bra fitting is a service offered in specialty bra shops or on bra-fitting days in department stores. If you can, take advantage of being fitted by someone who knows what they’re doing so you can get the right bra. Specialty shops can be expensive, but getting a bra that doesn’t bother you could be a worthwhile investment.

Woman struggling to clasp her bra.

Identify Your Undergarment Problems

Your main problem with a bra might not be the same as someone else’s. Think about whether it is the limited mobility of your shoulders, wrists, or elbows presenting issues when closing and opening the bra behind your back, or if it’s more the manual dexterity required. Perhaps you have another condition connected to RA that makes it difficult to wear a bra for a whole day, or maybe it’s something else entirely. This can help you narrow down the options when looking for bra.

Woman experiencing discomfort from her bra.

When Wearing a Bra Hurts

“I suffer with rib pain due to costochondritis from time to time. I wear a light bra during those times.” — @Mischelle3447

Whether the pain is in your rib cage, shoulders, or neck, it can be affected by wearing a bra. You may want to use bra alternatives or limit the time you wear a bra, prioritizing more formal events or when you’re wearing tops made of lighter fabrics. If you have pain in the neck or shoulders, wider straps may help. As well, talk to your doctor about how to deal with the pain.

Woman struggling to close her bra.

When You Can’t Reach the Bra Closure

“I only wear heavy-duty T-shirt bras now. I can step into them and pull them up.” — Liz

Reaching the bra closure in the middle of your back is a feat made for contortionists. Add RA, limited mobility, and pain and it’s next to impossible. If a front closure bra is not your jam, there are a couple of tricks you can use. Like Liz, you can close up your bra before stepping into it. You can also do up the closure in the front, then move the band until the closure is on your back and shimmy into the straps, if your shoulders allow.

Woman jogging on a treadmill while wearing a sports bra.

A Sports Bra Can Serve Several Functions

“The light compression a sports bra gives relieves some of the rib, neck, and shoulder pain.” — @Farfbaz

A sports bra may be the solution to your troubles. It offers support when you exercise but can also serve perfectly well as a bra for the rest of your life. Some people with RA find that compression gear can help with pain and swelling, such as compression stockings and gloves. A sports bra can provide some support to the area around your neck, ribs, and shoulders.

Woman holding up a bralette.

Bralettes—Your Best Friend

“I stick with bralettes.” — Kirsten

When bralettes invaded the market a few years ago, many considered it the best invention since sliced bread. Made of lightweight and soft fabrics, these garments provide the coverage that our culture insists upon, as well as a subtle sexiness. Unfortunately, they don’t offer the support that those with bigger breasts may want.

Woman removing her bra.

Is a Bra Even Necessary?

“Don’t wear one.” — Willis

Another option is to not wear a bra at all. This goes against everything we’ve been taught about support and modesty, but think about it. Is the part of you that feels that you must wear a bra influenced by social expectations or do you actually feel better when wearing one? If not, toss the thing! (There is no requirement to burn it.)

Woman doing yoga while wearing a camisole.

A Variety of Camisoles

“Compression camisoles (shapewear) work well.” — Stacey

The camisole has many variations, from a simple undershirt, to a lacy slip of silk, all the way to something that holds and molds. If you feel more comfortable with some coverage or a bit of support, the camisole may be your answer. Bonus: During colder months of the year, it’s an extra layer of warmth.

Shopping for a comfortable bra.

Brands That Work

“The Ahh Bra is fantastic!’ — Sharyl-Anne

“A lightweight bra such as GenieBra.” — Mischelle3447 (available at WalMart)

Torrid has great [bralettes] that are sexy despite thicker straps (less likely to aggravate my neck and shoulder pain). Their regular bras are softer than others.” — Kirsten

Jockey has a lovely little soft sports-type bra.” — Anna

“I’ve had luck with the Playtex posture bra. No wires, padded shoulder straps, full back (think vest), for closure.” — Stacey

Bra materials.

A Custom Job Might Work

One of the reasons so many don’t wear the right bra is that we are human beings who don’t fit into a particular mold. If your bra size is out of the ordinary, the solution may be a bra custom-made to your body. Personally, I am an odd fit with a broader chest, but small cup size, and have never found a bra that fits. That is, until I discovered Helen Kukowski, a custom lingerie maker from the Ukraine. If you’re in a similar situation, this could be your answer.

Lene  Andersen, MSW
Meet Our Writer
Lene Andersen, MSW

Lene Andersen is an author, health and disability advocate, and photographer living in Toronto. Lene (pronounced Lena) has lived with rheumatoid arthritis since she was four years old and uses her experience to help others with chronic illness. She has written several books, including Your Life with Rheumatoid Arthritis: Tools for Managing Treatment, Side Effects and Pain, and 7 Facets: A Meditation on Pain, as well as the award-winning blog, The Seated View. Lene serves on HealthCentral's Health Advocates Advisory Board, and is a Social Ambassador for the RAHealthCentral on Facebook page, facebook.com/rahealthcentral. She is also one of HealthCentral's Live Bold, Live Now heroes — watch her incredible journey of living with RA.