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Women's Health: Special bra relieves post-surgery breast pain

Researcher recommends the supportive device for women having a chest incision

A specially designed bra helps reduce the likelihood of breast pain women may experience after having an incision through the breastbone for open heart surgery.

This type of incision is called a sternotomy. Kathryn King, an associate professor at the University of Calgary, says women often associate post-sternotomy pain and discomfort with the need for support.

King and other researchers at 10 hospitals across Canada randomly assigned 481 women undergoing a sternotomy to wear a regular bra or a special undergarment originally designed to be worn following plastic surgery of the breast.

The researchers found that the specially designed bra reduced the likelihood of breast pain by 54 per cent and the likelihood of breast discomfort by 38 per cent. Data were collected for about five weeks after surgery.

King says the device is extremely supportive and opens in the front, making it easier to put on than a traditional bra, and ideal for use after surgery as it accommodates chest tubes and other devices. “If there is any (emergency) care to be done, or a chest X-ray to be done, (staff can) literally just pop open the front zipper.”

She notes concern existed about a possible increased risk of infection because the undergarment pushes the breasts together and can be quite warm. This did not turn out to be the case. “We (now) know that recommending an undergarment like this in the early, and later on, postoperative period is safe. We didn’t know that before. The other thing is that we know that if we give women an undergarment like this they’ll wear it and they’ll be comfortable doing so.”

In addition to confirming the device’s safety and usefulness, King says she hopes the study changes hospital practice. “Right now, something like this isn’t included in hospital formularies or hospital areas in a routine manner. We know that there are undergarments for hernias, there are all kinds of support undergarments available for burn patients. … This kind of thing needs to be added to the list to help women.”