Billions of dollars are spent every year treating the myriad of reasons behind America’s back pain. Part of that health care receipt focuses on actual spinal surgery to fix the anatomic defects in our backs. When spinal correction isn’t an option or isn’t the issue, America’s plastic surgeons might be able to help a significant portion of female back pain sufferers. This population of women who have suffered sore backs for year and years – because of an issue on the front of their bodies. Consider it a Plastic Surgery Secret.
What’s the Secret?
In truth it’s not much of a secret: heavy, large breasts cause back pain. It’s certainly not the answer behind all, or even a majority, of back pain today in this country, but having the weight and discomfort caused by large, oversized breasts is a big reason many women suffer from chronic back, neck, shoulder and even hip pain.
“Most of the patients who come to see me about breast reduction are complaining about back pain, shoulder pain, neck pain, and even headaches,” says board certified plastic surgeon Patricia McGuire, MD, whose practice is in St. Louis. “The weight of the breast causes the bra to cut into their shoulders. That can hurt their neck and back.”
How Much Does this Specific Back Pain Hurt? A LOT
Back pain can incorporate a wide variety of symptoms; it can be mild and merely annoying or it can be severe and debilitating. Lower back pain may start suddenly, or it could start slowly—possibly coming and going—and gradually getting worse over time. Experts say it’s one of the most common problems that patients see doctors about.
Depending on the underlying cause of the pain, symptoms can be experienced in a variety of ways. For example:
- Pain that is dull or achy, contained to the low back
- Stinging, burning pain that moves from the low back to the backs of the thighs, sometimes into the lower legs or feet; can include numbness or tingling (sciatica)
- Muscle spasms and tightness in the low back, pelvis, and hips
- Pain that worsens after prolonged sitting or standing
- Difficulty standing up straight, walking, or going from standing to sitting
Women who need breast reduction surgery often complain of these and other pains, which can run from being acute and sudden to painful that last chronically for months and even years.
“Some patients even get numbness or tingling in their hands. These are patients who have come to a point in their lives where they can’t enjoy certain things,” says Mark Elliott, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon in Meridian, MI. “You shouldn’t do this just for aesthetic reasons. Breast reduction is not just a cookie cutter procedure that you do the same way on every single patient. 97 percent of the procedures we do are pre-certified and are covered by insurance. From the experience of watching people get it done, it must really be a relief of their symptoms because they are all really happy they got it done.”
What is Breast Reduction Surgery?
Breast reduction, also known as reduction mammoplasty, removes excess breast fat, glandular tissue and skin to achieve a breast size in proportion with your body and to alleviate the discomfort associated with overly large breasts.
The amount of breast tissue removed varies by the size of the patient, so in smaller-framed women, usually less is removed—they are just proportionally smaller—but usually, the final cup size is a “happy medium,” not too small and not too large. This is something each patient should discuss with her plastic surgeon, and they will do their best to get to the desired cup size.
Most of the time this operation can be done as an outpatient procedure, so in other words, you do not stay overnight at the hospital. The recovery is not too bad; usually a few weeks of resting off of work and heavy exercise, but many patients are able to do desk work at home. The exact type of scar depends on the type of reduction, but in general, they all heal quite nicely.
How Will I Look After Reduction Surgery?
Richard Restifo, MD, a board certified plastic surgeon in Connecticut, says as desperate as some women are to get rid of the pain caused by their breasts, most are very concerned about what their bodies will look like after surgery.
“You’re taking the weight off but you’re also reshaping the breast,” Dr. Restifo says. “The two basic options are what we call the lollipop incision and the anchor incision. And sometimes it boils down to how much smaller the woman wants to be. Typically an anchor incision will allow you to take off more tissue and get more of a lift. So it depends on where a patient is starting from.”
Is Breast Reduction Surgery Covered by Insurance?
Breast reduction is covered by insurance plans if you have symptoms that are not relieved with more conservative measures, such as massage therapy or trying better support bras. There is a process of pre-approval your plastic surgeon and their staff will work with you on to accomplish, and they will need to submit the documentation from your family physician as well.
If you are experiencing back and neck pain, and are thinking about breast reduction as an option, talk first to your family doctor about your symptoms and then consult with a board certified plastic surgeon.