Chest binding (the practice of using a compression garment to make ones chest flatter) can be an immensely affirming practice especially for trans and non-binary people. The trade-off is sometimes postural changes and chronic pain. This was explored in a 2016 study about chest binding among transgender adults. A D.C.-based massage therapist, Frances Reed, was recently featured in an article in The Washington Post about chronic pain related to chest binding. (If you are ever in the area, I highly recommend Frances and the entire team at Freed Bodyworks!).
Since pain related to chest binding is a concern I get asked about frequently as a massage therapist, I have compiled some resources below. Please feel free to contact me with feedback or further resources I should add to this list!
Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this information is not medical advice. Talk to a health professional if you have any injuries or if you experience any severe pain, trouble breathing, or rashes while binding.
The type of binder and binding practices you use can make a huge difference. Here are some important resources on how to bind safer:
Breathing and Relaxation
Consider practicing some deep breathing exercises every few hours of binding. If you can’t take a deep, full breath your binder might be too tight. Shift from thoracic (chest) breathing to diaphragmatic (abdominal) breathing and try an intercostal stretching breath and/or the quadruped breathing exercise before and after you wear your binder.
Side note: If mindful breathing and meditation feels useful to you, check out Awaken (a mindfulness and meditation app with a social justice lens).
Stretching and Self Massage Techniques
Some bodywork practitioners have created guides to stretching specifically for folks who bind. Here is one of my favorites from Ana María Agüero Jahannes of Wild Seed Wellness:
In terms of general resources on stretching/massaging the muscles possibly effected by binding, here are some links that will guide you through a few exercises (shout out to my sister for helping me compile this list).
I recommend keeping it simple! Pick your top three stretches and find a way to incorporate them into your day. These exercises can also be useful for post- top surgery healing (only when advised by a medical provider) or more generally for anyone experiencing upper back pain related to postures common to working at a computer.
Opening the chest and releasing tension in the upper back:
Relaxing chest opener stretch (this is one of my favorites and can be done with a rolled up blanket or yoga mat if you don’t have a foam roller)
Chest-opening stretches will go a long way to releasing tension in the upper back (physics!). Here are a few techniques to self-massage the traps and rhomboids: