World first chest binding study highlights medical risks for trans people
A recently released report on the benefits and risks of chest binding has revealed that many trans men and non-binary people have experienced at least one negative health outcome from binding.
The study is the first of its kind, and was conducted by The Binding Health Project at Boston University, which asked 1,800 people about their binding practices.
Chest binding involves the flattening of the chest using items such as bandages, sports bras, or commercial chest binders. It’s most often practiced by trans men and non-binary people.
The results of the study showed binding was a “daily occurrence” for participants, with most binding their chests every day for an average of ten hours.
Over 97 per cent of respondents said they had experienced at least one negative health outcome from binding including pain, overheating, and shortness of breath. Fifty even reported rib fractures.
Commercial binders were most commonly associated with negative health impacts. Respondents who wore commercial binders reported experiencing 20 out of the study’s 28 listed health impacts.
Materials like cling wrap and duct tape, commonly advised against for binding, were only associated with 13 of the 28 negative health impacts.
Researcher Sarah Peitzmeier said the data was surprising given that commercial binders are often considered the safest option.
She said the high rate of negative health effects from commercial binders could be due to incorrect use: “for example layering multiple binders on top of each other or using a binder that is a size too small for greater compression.”
Trans respondents who used chest binders also reported not seeing a doctor for advice even when they were in pain, suspecting practitioners would not know about binding.
“My impression is awareness of binding is relatively low in the medical community,” said Peitzmeier.
“Even medical professionals who know about binding aren’t really sure how to assess it clinically, what the potential health impact of binding could be, and what safer binding practices they should recommend to patients.”
Many trans people said they would continue binding despite the health risks, because of the relief from gender dysphoria and increased ability to pass in public as their correct gender.
The researchers recommended “off days” from binding where possible, cautioned using commercial binders, and said to avoid bandages, cling wrap or duct tape for binding.
The Binding Health Project wants to empower trans people and their doctors with knowledge about safe binding.
“We want medical professionals to support people who bind in making decisions to maximise their physical and mental health,” said Peitzmeier.