I am often asked if breast augmentation limits athletic
ability. Does the placement of implants somehow weaken an
athlete? Will their weight cause instability? Does placement
under the pectoralis major muscle cause loss of muscle function?
Like many questions in medicine, the answer depends on the
specific variable for each individual.
Size matters, and the larger the implant the greater the
potential impact. Variables influenced include the following:
reaching across the chest, lateral (side-to-side) displacement
of the breast and implant, the additional weight of the implant,
increased drag, discomfort and possible muscle atrophy.
The ability to reach across the chest can be impacted. For
someone with AA-cup sized breasts before surgery, the change
is proportionally larger than for someone who begins with
B-cup breasts. The implants may be more noticeable with sports
that require extreme inward rotation at the shoulder with
the arm extended. Examples include golf and racket sports
like tennis and racket ball. Unless the implants are quite
large, most athletes adapt quickly and can compensate by increasing
rotation of the torso at the waist.
Lateral displacement of the breast and implant can also interfere
with the arm’s range of motion. By keeping the implant diameter
less than or equal to the diameter of the native breast, the
feeling that “they’re in the way” can be minimized. This is
also a good way to keep the result proportional to the rest
of your body.
The weight of the implant is another factor. Women with large
breasts (especially those desiring breast reduction surgery)
often complain of lower neck, upper back and shoulder pain.
Removing breast tissue – usually several pounds – relieves
these symptoms. Conversely, if too much weight is added to
the breast, similar symptoms can develop. However, since most
implants weigh about three quarters of a pound, this problem
is rare. Exercise routines that include running and jumping
may make the weight more noticeable, but with the proper support,
these activities are usually well tolerated.
Competitive swimmers may notice slightly increased drag,
but for the recreational athlete, little change is noted.
Since most implants used for augmentation are filled with
saline (salt water), they are essentially neutrally buoyant.
In other words, implants won’t make you float on your back
– or sink to the bottom of the pool.
A rare complication of breast augmentation is chronic discomfort
in the breast. Most discomfort is associated with the surgery
itself. This usually resolves over a few days to weeks. Occasionally
chronic pain develops.