Breast pain (mastalgia) and tenderness are common and most women experience one or the other at some stage in life. In most instances, breast pain is easily treatable, but it can occasionally indicate something more serious if accompanied by additional symptoms.
In this article, we’ll discuss the 9 most common reasons your boobs are sore, along with helpful tips to manage the various causes, and advice on when to see a doctor regarding breast pain.
Common Reasons Your Breasts Might Hurt
1. Hormonal Fluctuations – Menstrual & Menopausal
During the menstrual cycle, female hormones naturally fluctuate to accommodate the changes taking place in a woman’s body. And breast tenderness before menstruation, a common PMS symptom, is linked to the rise of estrogen in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
Also referred to as cyclical breast pain, this type of breast discomfort is experienced by over 70% of women globally.
Breast tenderness linked to PMS usually passes within a few days when the hormones regulate after menstruation. In the meantime, using a heat pack and over-the-counter pain medication can help to manage breast tenderness. For those suffering from more severe cyclical breast pain, a natural supplement called Chasteberry (also known as Vitex) can significantly reduce breast discomfort related to hormonal fluctuations.
Menopausal Hormone Fluctuations
Women aged between 46 and 52 are also prone to breast pain in one or both breasts that can spread to the armpits. This is typically one of the first signs of perimenopause, but because hormonal fluctuations at this stage of life can result in irregular menstrual cycles, this type of breast pain can come and go more randomly.
Once again, the natural supplement Chasteberry is held in high regard for treating breast tenderness associated with perimenopause and menopause. As well as slowing extreme hormone secretion, Chasteberry boosts the production of insufficient hormones, thereby treating breast tenderness, mood swings, and pelvic discomfort, as well as improving sleep.
In addition to menstruation and menopause, hormonal fluctuations during the first trimester of pregnancy can also result in breast tenderness. It is important to note, however, that Chasteberry is not recommended during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
2. Uncomfortable Bras
Bras that are too tight, especially those with underwires, are another common cause of breast pain. On the other hand, bras that are too loose can also result in breast pain by the end of the day, due to the absence of support for the ligaments and muscles that connect the breasts to the chest wall. For the same reasons, a supportive sports bra is also vital if you work out.
For the best fit and support bras-wise, book an appointment with a professional bra fitter at your local department store and get to know your perfect size & fit. If you suffer regularly from cyclical breast pain, bear in mind that you might want to purchase a larger size bra or a comfortable sports bra for the second half of your menstrual cycle when your breasts swell.
3. Breast Injuries & Chest Wall Ailments
Similar to any other part of your body, the breasts and chest wall can incur injuries too. During an accident, while playing sports, or just taking care of everyday activities, you might feel sharp or sudden pain from a breast injury and notice that it lasts for several days or weeks afterward. Furthermore, neck sprains or pinched nerves in the shoulders can also result in referred breast pain.
Pain from breast injuries can be treated with over-the-counter pain medication and it typically subsides within a few weeks. Neck sprains or pinched shoulder nerves benefit from physical therapy as well as cold and heat packs to reduce any inflammation. And seatbelt pillows from Intimate Rose, which are primarily designed to help patients recover from breast surgery, can also be a useful tool to protect any painful areas from the pressure of a seatbelt.
It is also important to keep an eye on additional symptoms like a breast bruise, severe swelling, or an infection. If these do not subside within a week or two after an injury, make an appointment with your doctor for further examination.
Chest Wall Ailments
Chest wall pain can happen due to injuries too, like broken ribs or bad bruising after an accident, and in these instances, the pain can feel as if it is coming from the breasts, even though it is not. In addition, medical conditions such as angina, gallstones, or rheumatoid arthritis can be responsible for chest wall pain that can manifest on one side, expand from one side of the chest to the other, or extend down the arm.
The treatment for chest wall injuries will depend on the cause, therefore if you notice any of the above symptoms, it is always best to consult with a doctor for examination and diagnosis.
Even though mastitis is a breast infection typically associated with breastfeeding, it can occur in women who are not breastfeeding too. Symptoms include swollen and painful breasts, as well as flu-like symptoms such as headaches and a fever.
Antibiotics are required to treat mastitis and if the infection has developed into an abscess your healthcare practitioner will also drain it.
5. Scar Tissue Post Surgery or After Radiation Therapy
Breast surgery for a mastectomy or breast implants and radiation therapy for breast cancer can sometimes result in the development of scar tissue that can cause numbness or breast pain. In addition to breast pain, patients might also notice a firmer feel to the breast(s) or lumps around surgical scars.
Physical therapy can be beneficial for relieving the pressure of post-surgery scar tissue in the breasts, and in severe cases, additional surgery can be required to remove it. As you heal with physical therapy sessions or additional surgery, it can help to use a mastectomy pillow that lays gently across your chest with the side pillows under each arm to prevent any rubbing or chaffing against surgical scars or painful scar tissue.
Our mastectomy pillows also come with adjustable shoulder straps and gel packs for hot and cold therapy.
6. Fibrocystic Breast Changes
Fibrocystic breast changes are normal, non-cancerous, and typically occur due to hormonal fluctuations associated with the menstrual cycle. Although harmless, the fluid-filled cysts and ropey fibrous tissue that develops can make the breasts feel lumpy and uncomfortable with symptoms typically worsening before menstruation.
As well as the breasts feeling lumpy and tender, additional symptoms of fibrocystic breast changes can include itchiness and overly sensitive nipples.
Fibrocystic breast changes are normally treated with over-the-counter pain medication as well as cold or warm compresses to soothe sensitive nipples. Since it is an ongoing condition, patients find that a soft attachable seatbelt pillow can provide comfort against the discomforting pressure of a seatbelt against the breasts.
Should breast pain worsen or you notice any persistent lumps, it is always best to contact your doctor for a consultation.
7. Medications for Other Conditions
If you are taking medication for another condition, it could be the reason why your boobs are sore. Certain medications used to treat mental health conditions, kidney and heart diseases, as well as high blood pressure can cause tender breasts. Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, and fertility treatments can also result in side effects like breast pain.
If you believe your breast pain could be linked to any medications you are taking, schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss and make changes to your treatment if necessary.
Costochondritis is described as swelling in the area where the upper ribs join together with the cartilage that connects them to the breastbone. The condition is usually caused by severe coughing, respiratory infections, muscle strain from intense exercise, or added pressure to the chest from heavy lifting.
Although it results in pain and tenderness in the chest, which can spread to the back or stomach and worsen when breathing or moving the upper body, costochondritis is generally harmless and heals by itself.
Pain associated with the condition is normally treated with over-the-counter pain medication and transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS). Since any extra pressure on the chest can worsen the pain, this is another situation where a comforting seatbelt cushion can help when riding in a car.
9. Breast Cancer
While breast pain is not usually a symptom of breast cancer, it can be an indicator of the abnormal cell growth associated with cancer, if accompanied by additional symptoms. These include a persistent breast lump, an inverted nipple, dimpling or changes in texture to the breast skin, nipple discharge, peeling skin around the nipple, and itchy or unusually enlarged breasts.
Should you notice that any of the above-mentioned symptoms accompany your breast pain, schedule an appointment with your doctor for a check-up. It may have nothing to do with cancer, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Depending on the type and stage of breast cancer, treatment options include hormone therapy, surgery to remove cancerous cells, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biological therapy, where the body’s immune system is used to eradicate cancer cells.
There are several reasons behind breast pain, including hormonal fluctuations, ill-fitting bras, chest injuries, post-surgery complications, and referred pain.
As one of the most common complaints in women of reproductive age, breast tenderness is normally easy to treat with over-the-counter pain medication, natural supplements that improve hormone regulation, or comfort pillows that are specifically designed to soothe breast pain.
While breast pain is not a typical symptom of breast cancer, if it is accompanied by any additional symptoms such as the presence of breast lumps, changes to the skin texture, nipples, or size of your breasts, it is best to schedule a checkup with your doctor for peace of mind.
National Library of Medicine – Mastalgia - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK562195/
Mayo Clinic - Premenstrual syndrome (PMS): Definition
Mayo Clinic – Menopause - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/menopause/symptoms-causes/syc-20353397
National Library of Medicine- Treatment of cyclical mastalgia with a solution containing Vitex Agnus extract: results of a placebo-controlled double-blind study - https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/14731436/
Medical News Today - What Signs of Breast Cancer Are There Other Than a Lump - https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322832
National Center For Biotechnology - Comparison of Vitex agnus-castus Extracts with Placebo in Reducing Menopausal Symptoms: A Randomized Double-Blind Study - https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6887765/
Mayo Clinic – Mastitis - https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/mastitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20374829
BreastCancer.org - Fibrocystic Breast Changes - https://www.breastcancer.org/benign-breast-conditions/fibrocystic-changes
Breast Cancer Now - Chest Wall Pain - https://breastcancernow.org/information-support/have-i-got-breast-cancer/benign-breast-conditions/breast-pain/chest-wall-pain
NHS – Costochondritis - https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/costochondritis/