Cooper’s ligaments are connective tissues that attach from the underside of the skin of each breast to the supporting structures inside the chest. The supporting ligaments of cooper maintain the tone and shape of the breasts and when healthy keep the breasts firm and tight on the body. Also known as the fibrocollagenous septa, each ligament holds up the tissues that make up the breast against the chest wall. They can lengthen and weaken over time, especially when tension is lost as a person ages. Breast feeding and injuries can affect the ligaments as well, causing the breasts to droop and elongate, so any changes in the ligaments can have a drastic effect on physical appearance.
The anatomy of the cooper’s ligaments brings them from the connective tissues over the ribs and around the glandular tissues and ducts of the breasts. They are named after British surgeon and professor Sir Astley Paston Cooper who was known for advances in anatomy and medicine in the early 1800s. Cooper worked as a surgeon in London and established a medical school later on. Designated a baronet after performing surgery on King George IV, he was also known for his work in treating conditions of the blood vessels.
Sagging of the breasts occurs when the cooper’s ligaments weaken. Reasons for this include age, and breastfeeding, during which milk increases the volume and weight of the breasts and pulls on the ligaments. Activities that result in repeated impacts can also damage them. During cosmetic surgery, incisions can also cause the ligaments to be weakened if they are not repaired correctly, so the procedure could result in a less desirable appearance than before. A cosmetic surgeon must adequately reinforce the cooper’s ligaments for breast lifts and breast reductions to be most effective, because incisions below the mammary gland can seriously damage them.
The cooper’s ligaments are sometimes mistaken for the inguinal ligament of cooper, also called the pectineal ligament, which runs along the pubic bone. In diseases that cause a degeneration of the breast, such as inflammatory carcinoma, the ligaments stay attached to the skin even when the lymphatic ducts become swollen. The irregular shape then becomes apparent on the surface, which is another way the ligaments directly influence the structural integrity of the breasts. Only by avoiding activities resulting in injuries and by wearing supporting bras, both routinely and during breast feeding, can degradation of the ligaments be prevented.