Breast pain is a really common symptom, but often women are just expected to ‘get on with it’! There can be many reasons why your breasts hurt. But the good news is that pain alone is not usually a sign of breast cancer. In this article we describe 6 main causes of breast pain, and suggest some simple strategies to help. All of the advice is generic and if you have a specific problem that you want to address, please get in touch or ask your doctor.
1. Muscular or chest wall pain
Pain from the chest wall and muscles underneath the breasts is really common. This might happen if you have strained yourself in some way or have been using your arm and chest muscles more than usual. Any damage to the muscle can cause inflammation leading to pain. As the chest wall muscles are directly behind the breasts, you feel this as pain in the breast itself.
The best way to deal with this kind of pain is to help the muscles get better. Rest and avoid any activity you think might have brought it on. You should expect this to help within a few weeks. Taking simple painkillers such as paracetamol (acetaminophen) or ibuprofen can help too.
2. Cyclical breast pain
This happens when the breast responds to the normal changes in hormone levels that occur with the menstrual cycle. As the female hormone (oestrogen and progesterone) levels in your blood alter during the month they have effects on your breasts. Due to this, the tissue may swell causing you to feel that your breasts hurt. This is often worst just before a period starts. If the pain bothers you a lot it can be good to keep a ‘pain diary’ to see the worst times of day. Painkillers and a well-fitting bra are the best treatments.
You may have also heard that new breast pain and swelling can be the first sign that you are pregnant! This is also related to the change in your hormones during pregnancy.
3. Badly fitting Bra
Let’s face it; we have all had problems getting a well-fitting bra. Bras that are too big, too small, too old or too worn do not provide the support that your breasts need, A wired bra that pokes or presses the crease underneath the breast can make symptoms even worse. A badly fitted bra is one of the common reasons women can have breast pain. It is important to get fitted, and importantly re-fitted, as our breasts change with time.
4. Bumps and Bruises
Just like stubbing your toe or getting a bump or bruise to a part of your body, your breasts can get knocked and bruised. This can happen without you even realising it. For instance, you might hurt your breast during a workout or when your young toddler runs into your arms or even during sex! Usually these type of pains ease with a little time, but you may wish to use simple painkillers. NSAIDs (e.g. ibuprofen) come in a gel form and can be directly applied to the breast. Of course, if you notice a lump or your symptoms persist then you should seek help from your doctor.
Women who do a lot of exercise or are trying to lose weight might have particular problems with large breasts. As anything from a C-cup or larger has a tendency to swing when running or moving around this can strain or injure the breasts. It is really important to use a sports-type bra for activity. Many women who have large breasts that bother them consider a breast reduction. Of all cosmetic breast operations, breast reduction probably has the highest rate of satisfaction.
5. Fibrocystic disease
Fibrocystic breast changes are a common cause of breast pain. These occur when an area of the breast becomes thickened and tough (fibrous) with associated small cysts. The cysts are little collections of fluid. More than half of women experience fibrocystic changes at some time in their lives, although not all women have symptoms from it. In women who do have symptoms, as well as pain, tenderness and lumpy bumpy breast tissue can be present. Pain and lumpy areas may appear just before your period is due. Again, the best treatment is locally applied painkillers (e.g. ibuprofen gel).
6. More serious causes of breasts that hurt
It is rare for a cancer to present with the only symptom that the breasts hurt. However, if you have persistent pain throughout the month and it doesn’t change or get better it is always worth getting advice. If you notice a new lump or an indentation over the area of skin, you should definitely see a doctor.