Breast implants are medical devices that are used to augment breast size or to reconstruct the breast after mastectomy or other damage to the breast. They come in two general types: silicone gel-filled implants and saline-filled implants. Both types have an outer silicone shell, but silicone implants are filled with a viscous silicone gel while saline implants are filled with sterile saltwater solution.
Women choose to get breast implants for a variety of reasons, including increasing breast size and improving breast shape. However, one concern many women have is how delicate or sturdy breast implants are. Can they withstand intense physical activity or intimate contact? Will implants break or rupture under pressure? Understanding the amount of pressure breast implants can endure can help women make informed choices about their surgery and set realistic expectations for life with implants.
How Much Pressure Do Breast Implants Normally Withstand?
Breast implants are designed to withstand normal, everyday levels of pressure and contact. The cohesive silicone gel or saline fluid inside modern breast implants will not easily leak out or rupture.
During basic daily activities like walking, sleeping, hugging, or lying on your stomach, breast implants experience an average of 3-14 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI). This level of pressure is well within the safety testing limits of most implants on the market today.
For example, Allergan Natrelle silicone gel breast implants were tested to withstand average pressures of up to 21.4 PSI before rupturing. Mentor smooth saline implants were tested to an average of 10.8 PSI. Other manufacturers report similar pressure thresholds in the 10-21 PSI range.
So during normal day-to-day activities, you do not need to worry about damaging your breast implants or subjecting them to unsafe pressures. They can readily handle common levels of pressure from basic activities.
Higher Pressure Activities and Breast Implants
While breast implants can withstand normal, light pressure without issues, higher pressure activities can increase the risk of damage. Strenuous physical activities like contact sports, weightlifting, running on hard surfaces, or intense physical labor create more intense pressure on the breast area.
Research shows that the average PSI experienced during physical activities like jogging can reach 20-30 PSI. Contact sports like football or hockey can create pressures exceeding 100 PSI on the chest. Weightlifting moves like the bench press may exert up to 75 PSI.
These types of strenuous and high impact athletic activities increase the chances of rupturing or leaking an implant. The risk is higher if the implant shell has any pre-existing damage or weaknesses.
That said, many women with implants do successfully engage in higher impact sports and exercise without issues. Using a supportive sports bra can help reduce pressure and strain on the implants during physical activity. Women who want to participate in contact sports may choose more durable implant options like the Ideal Implant with its nested shells, which provide a potentially safer choice.
Intimate Physical Contact and Breast Implants
Intimate physical contact, like hugging or sex, causes very little pressure on breast implants. Unless contact is overly forceful or directed right at the implant, intimate activity does not typically damage or rupture implants from pressure alone.
However, breast implants can potentially rupture from a direct pointed impact, like a jab or elbow strike. Ruptures may also occur if the implant shell already has undetected damage or flaws. So while normal romantic activity does not usually cause issues, women should still be aware of any sudden pains or changes after physical intimacy, which may signal a rupture.
Overall intimate contact rarely exerts dangerous pressure on breast implants. But any activity that creates intense discomfort or pain in the breast should be evaluated by your surgeon.
Other Factors That Can Rupture Implants
While physical pressure is one potential cause of implant rupture, it is not the only factor. Breast implants can also rupture due to:
– Damage during surgery – Improper placement or unnoticed flaws in the implant shell may lead to early rupture or leakage.
– Trauma or accidents – Major blunt force trauma, like a car accident, can potentially damage implants depending on the level of impact.
– Compression during mammograms – Improper mammogram techniques may exert unsafe pressure on implants. Special imaging like an MRI is sometimes needed.
– Normal aging and wear – Implant shells may weaken or degrade over time, increasing the chances of rupture years later.
– Breast changes during pregnancy – Expanding breast tissue during pregnancy puts outward pressure on the implant which may lead to shell weaknesses.
So pressure alone does not always cause implant rupture or deflation. But understanding pressure limits can help women minimize risks where possible through smart implant choices and activity modifications after surgery.
Signs of Breast Implant Rupture
If a breast implant does rupture due to pressure or another cause, there are important symptoms to watch for:
– Breast size/shape change – Deflation may cause the breast to appear smaller or shapless, or the implant may shift out of position.
– Firmness changes – A ruptured implant may feel less firm or become abnormally hard.
– Pain or tenderness – Sudden, new, or increasing pain or soreness may indicate a rupture.
– Numbness – Nerve compression from a ruptured, leaking implant can cause numbness or tingling.
– Swelling – Fluid accumulation around a ruptured saline implant can lead to swelling.
– Visible rippling/wrinkling – Shell tears may cause visible rippling or wrinkling on the breast skin surface.
– New lumps – Gel or saline leakage into the surrounding pocket may feel like new lumps or areas of fullness.
Any of these symptoms warrant having your implants examined by a doctor to check for rupture. Imaging tests like an MRI or ultrasound are often needed to confirm if a suspected rupture is present. If a rupture is found, you will need surgery to replace the damaged implant.
Does Implant Rupture Mean They Need Replacement?
If a breast implant does rupture, it will require surgical replacement. You should never simply leave a ruptured implant in the body long-term.
However, not all ruptures require emergency surgery. In some cases called “silent ruptures” where the implant slowly leaks a small amount, your doctor may determine the rupture is minor enough to schedule surgery at a later date. But the damaged implant does still need replacement eventually.
Immediate implant replacement surgery is recommended if:
– Rupture symptoms appeared suddenly after an injury.
– Breast pain, swelling, or lumps developed rapidly.
– There are signs the surrounding tissue is damaged.
– You are concerned about silicone gel migrating from the implant pocket.
– Major implant deflation causes appearance problems.
Minor ruptures may allow a few weeks or months before surgery as long as no urgent symptoms appear. But any diagnosed implant rupture means that damaged implant will need surgical removal and replacement.
Can You Prevent Implant Rupture?
While implant ruptures cannot always be prevented, you can take some steps to help minimize risks:
– Choose a cohesive gel or textured implant for more durability.
– Pick an implant size in proportion to your frame to limit pressure.
– Have implants placed under the muscle for added protection.
– Avoid strenuous chest exercises like bench pressing heavy weights.
– Wear a high-impact sports bra for running or contact sports.
– Use proper mammogram techniques like annual imaging surveillance.
– Schedule MRIs starting 3 years after surgery to screen for silent ruptures.
Following your surgeon’s postoperative activity guidelines can also help you avoid damaging your implants during the initial healing phase when they are most vulnerable.
Breast implants are designed to withstand normal, light pressure without issues. Most can tolerate an average of 10-20 PSI before rupturing which covers basic daily activities. Higher impact athletic activities may increase the risk of rupture, so women should take precautions like wearing supportive bras during exercise.
Intimate physical contact rarely causes implant rupture, though any activity causing breast pain should be evaluated. Implants may also rupture due to factors like surgical flaws, trauma, aging, or pregnancy changes. Symptoms of implant rupture include breast or implant shape changes, firmness changes, pain, and visible wrinkling.
Diagnosed ruptures always require eventual surgical replacement of the damaged implant. While some silent ruptures allow a delayed timeline for surgery, a ruptured implant should never simply be left in the body long-term without a plan for removal. With sensible precautions, most women can avoid running into the pressure limits of their breast implants. But staying vigilant for any signs of rupture is important, as rupture means those implants will need replacement.