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Is Your Breast Size Causing Your Back Pain?


“Thank God!” Carol Gee breathed in relief when, after suffering from a growing, stinging pain and redness under her left breast, tests — including a biopsy— determined there was no serious medical condition causing her irritation.

Still, she couldn’t help feeling sad and frustrated. Without a cause, doctors could offer her no solution, other than to apply topical cortisone cream daily—which only gave Carol mild and temporary relief.

Is Breast Size Causing Your Medical Issues?

I can’t go on this way, she thought, filling with determination. I’m going to find out what is going on and how to get rid of it for good. Before retiring and pursuing her dream of becoming an author, Carol worked at Emory University’s School of Public Health and decided to consult one of their women’s health physicians. After an examination, the doctor surprised Carol by asking if she also suffered from backaches.

Carol admitted that she usually had to take Tylenol after standing for a while, even if she was just washing dishes in the sink. The doctor nodded knowingly. Then asked, “Have you ever considered breast reduction surgery?”

Being large busted—she measured up to 42 JJ—Carol had always had difficulty shopping for clothes, but she never imagined being large chested was also causing her physical problems. “I believe the painful irritation you are experiencing is being caused by skin rubbing on skin, and the weight of your breasts is putting strain on your back,” the doctor explained.

Still, undergoing surgery was worrisome, especially being 70 and having diabetes. But the thought of finally living pain-free made Carol decide she had to at least look into it.

What To Expect From Breast Reduction Surgery

Carol was referred to a plastic surgeon and was relieved to hear that because the procedure was being done for medical reasons, it would be covered by her insurance. They also discussed her concerns about recovery and healing due to her age and diabetes, and the doctor reassured her there was little to worry about if she followed the recovery instructions.

After a thorough consultation, she and the surgeon decided on a postoperative size of 36D. Then, Carol underwent the procedure. It went smoothly, and she came through with flying colors.

Carol only needed pain medication for about three days, but she had to wear a medical bra over her bandaged sutures for several months and take antibiotics to prevent infection.

Once fully healed, Carol admits she missed her old self, but the joy of living pain-free quickly had her falling in love with her new self. “Now life is so much better. I feel lighter and I even have more energy. Mammograms have also gotten a lot easier for both me and the technicians,” Carol says. “I also love being able to finally shop off the rack and find really pretty bras. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!”

Is a Breast Reduction Right For You?

If you’re one of the millions of women whose large breasts cause pain in your back, neck, or shoulders, or trigger pesky skin infections, insurance may cover breast-reduction surgery. “With a reduction, you have less weight pulling down on your chest, your bra strap and your neck, which alleviates pain,” explains Stafford Broumand, M.D., a board-certified plastic surgeon in Manhattan. “When the breast is reduced and lifted, you prevent the skin-on-skin contact that causes irritation.”

But the caveat, says Dr. Broumand, is that insurance companies require documentation from a doctor, dermatologist, or medical professional that you tried to treat your symptoms with less expensive options for at least three months before they’ll approve coverage for surgery.

His advice: Contact your insurance carrier and request their coverage criteria in writing so you know what documentation you need. Then plan your next steps with your primary care physician.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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