University of Calgary

Wonder bra

Special design reduces pain after surgery

Benefits now supported by national results

By Greg Harris

A national clinical trial led by a University of Calgary researcher has found that wearing a specialized compression bra significantly reduces women’s breast pain following heart surgery.

The study, funded by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, is the first to provide scientific data that a supportive undergarment of this type is safe, effective and can be worn almost immediately after cardiac surgery.

Dr. Kathryn King, an Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research Population Health Investigator—who holds joint appointments in the U of C’s Faculty of Nursing and the Faculty of Medicine—presented her findings on Oct. 22 at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress in Vancouver.

“Women who wore the bra after surgery had a great deal less pain and discomfort in their breasts—such as numbness, tingling or shooting sensations—than those in the control group,” King says. She and her colleagues looked at the post-operative experiences of 481 women from 10 cities across Canada.

The post-operative bra fastens in the front, doesn’t have any metal clasps that can interfere with X-rays, provides extra compression, and can be adjusted to accommodate changing breast sizes, which sometimes occurs after surgery.

Women have usually been advised to wear a supportive undergarment after a sternotomy—the procedure that opens up the breastbone—but until now the assumed benefits have never been substantiated by research. Several women in the study wore the bra right out of the operating room whereas most women wait three or four days after surgery before putting on a bra.

King got the idea for the study 10 years ago after working in the intensive care unit of Calgary’s Holy Cross Hospital and seeing women struggle with post-operative pain.

Christine Smith, a Calgary woman who underwent heart surgery last year, believes the bra was extremely helpful in her recovery.  “It gives you that feeling of security when you’ve just had your sternum separated— you worry about that—but with the bra you feel a lot safer,” she says.