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Can we talk about bras?

Allodynia, or “central pain sensitization” can make regular, everyday sensations feel painful. It’s a part of living with migraine for many people, and it can turn pony tails, wool sweaters, and ill fitting socks into an all-out assault on the body, even between attacks.

When my adventures with chronic migraine began, getting dressed after a warm shower was often an intensely uncomfortable event. Putting on my favorite skinny jeans and what was previously a perfectly comfortable, well-fitting bra would make me feel like Mama Bear trying to squeeze into Goldilocks’ pajamas. Within minutes, I would collapse on the bed, sweating, and bracing myself for a tidal wave of nasty, no good migraine symptoms.

Years later, with better all-round management of the disease through medication and helpful daily habits, I rarely experience such intense sensations from the mere act of getting dressed. But — for me at least — the bra is still a nagging source of much discomfort, and so continues the never-ending search to find a bra that my hypersensitive brain can ignore.

Here’s a breakdown of my bra issues:

Underwire: NEVER. AGAIN. I’ve tried these on but never bought one. I found them excruciating even in my pre-migraine days.

Rib-Crushing Elastic Bands: To actually stay in place, the band that goes around the torso needs to be somewhat snug. Although I doubt my breathing is actually physically restricted by the bra, when I feel a migraine coming on at home and whip it off it’s as if my lungs have just been released from an Elizabethan whalebone corset. Not cool.

The Itchy Scratchies: Most bras seem to always have some scratchy material on the inside of the clasp, or straps. Why?? I only notice this when my migraine symptoms get revved up, but it’s another reason whipping the bra off is so satisfying.

Strap Pressure: Again, in order for a bra to stay in place and do what it does, it has to be a bit snug. When my traps are aching and the pain starts, those snug-fitting bra straps feel like they are deliberately egging on the shoulder and neck pain.

Bandeau: Band-no. With no straps, the bandeau seems like a comfy idea in theory, but go about my normal day for three minutes, and rubber non-slip seams or not, that thing is either scrunched up under my armpits, or hanging down around my belly button.

Bralette: This is the best solution I have found yet. Being relatively flat chested, I can get away with a sports-type bra that is all made out of the same layer of stretchy material. The straps still give me grief sometimes, and the shape is rarely as flattering as something more structured.

Nipples on Display: Clearly the logical answer is to just go without. While I admire the bra-burning hippies, I have been raised in a culture that is just not encouraging of the loosey-goosey look, and I feel a bit exposed leaving the house without my most hated undergarment.

Of all the things migraine brings our way, one little undergarment may seem like a trivial matter, but in this life with too much pain, I’m determined to find comfort wherever possible.

Do you also deal with this discomfort? What solutions have you found? (Really, I must know.)

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • Peacock27
    1 year ago

    Wow! It’s idly reaffirming that others can feel my pain. I can’t wait to try some of these bread that you do mention.

  • chronicillnessfighter
    3 years ago

    I have struggled to find a bra I can tolerate for many years. I have chronic migraine, fibromylagia, and some other conditions. I am a G-cup. Yeah. Tough to find a bra. I finally found Decent Exposures, an online store that sells something called an “Un-Bra.” You can customize it in several ways, which is where a big part of the comfort comes from. The rest of the comfort level comes from the materials you choose (among several fabrics, including organic cotton, and different thread and elastic types). They also allow for alterations if the fit isn’t right! I can’t say they are perfect, and I still don’t want to wear one 24/7, but I can manage to wear their Un-Bras when I have to be in public, etc. without having to to the bathroom for a 15 min. “bra break.”
    I can’t remember if we’re allowed to post links to businesses…so I hope this is okay:

  • zoeFL
    3 years ago

    I have recently found a bra that doesn’t feel like a barbed wire torture device. It works for me because it has a very soft section under the cups which doesn’t dig at all. I think it comes in a wired version also, but wires ceased to be a possibility for me years ago. The bra is by Olga, and is called the Play It Cool Wirefree Contour Bra. Not only is it super comfortable, it is also inexpensive. Before I found this bra, I would buy expensive Lane Bryant bras and pull all of the wires out before wearing them – I have a very large, heavy bust, but a small band measurement and tiny shoulders. As always, I wear the Olga bra with a ‘shelf bra tank’ on top for additional support because it helps to keep the girls in place. Previously, I had tried the Breast Nest (not enough support) and practically every other bra on the market. My deal breaker was always the band under the cups. No matter which bra I chose, it always dug in. This bra is a much better fit for my easily-bullied ribcage. If it gets to be too much, I quite often undo the bra strap and let the shelf-bra tank hold everything in place over the top. Short of adapting to an aquatic environment, this seems to be the best solution for me.

  • Tamara
    3 years ago

    I gave up on bras …. they just hurt! I layer up with a little tank top or tshirt and hoodie … limits my clothing options but less pain is worth it. :). I do hate the nipples showing but slowly getting less self conscious and how to layer over them.

    The bra shoulder straps seem to cause my muscles to seize up.

  • DonnaFA moderator
    3 years ago

    Hi Tamara! Thanks for weighing in! I’m with you, bras – especially underwires (shudders) – could have been Medieval torture devices!

    Thanks for being part of the community! -All Best, Donna ( team)

  • minddoctor
    3 years ago

    My husband just sent me this article and asked if I wrote it! I never imagined that clothing sensitivity could be related to chronic migraine, but it certainly fits. Ever since my car accident 5 years ago left me with this disorder I’ve grown increasing irritated by tags, zippers or buttons, anything tight on my skin, but most especially, bras! Victoria’s Secret recently had a bralette sale and I bought five and threw out all of my other bras. Granted, I still peel off all of my clothes as soon as I get home and essentially exist in loosely fitted pajamas. But when I’m out, the bralette is the only option left for me that doesn’t provoke insanity. Thanks for the article!

  • LFN5
    3 years ago

    I am large in the chest, and have found a product called the BreastNest that gives great relief in the home and even outside in the winter–it’s too warm in hot weather for me to wear in layers. For me it is soft and gently supports the girls without the tightness of a bra but reduces the pull of gravity on the upper chest. Thanks for this piece–I did not even equate those squirmy feelings from tight clothes and hair elastics with my migraine–which is a new diagnosis for me. Such a complex set of issues. thanks again.

  • Lori
    3 years ago

    Hi LFN5-
    I looked at the BreastNest on your recommendation, and I must confess I’m intrigued, but also confused. I’ve had camisoles with under-bust seaming that don’t provide any “nesting” – my breasts just fall out underneath. Perhaps there are 2 layers? Also, I don’t see how the seam over the breast itself could possibly be comfortable. If you (or anyone else) can address these questions, I’d so appreciate it!

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