Women's Health
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5 Reasons Your Boobs Hurt

Pregnancy isn't the only cause of breast pain.

1 / 9

By Olivia DeLong 

Your breasts are pretty amazing—they produce milk for infants and can play a role in orgasms, among other wonders. But sometimes they’re painful, too. And while the issue can be as simple as wearing the wrong bra, breast pain can also indicate bigger health problems.

Here’s a breakdown of the different types of breast pain, the most common causes, plus what to do about it. 

There are different types of breast pain

2 / 9 There are different types of breast pain

First things first. It’s important to understand the three types of breast pain: cyclical, noncyclical and extramammary.

  • Cyclical breast pain is a dull heaviness or achiness commonly associated with the menstrual cycle. It typically occurs about two weeks before your period begins and affects both breasts.
  • Noncyclical breast pain has nothing to do with your menstrual period, and feels tight, sore or like a burning sensation in just one breast.  
  • Extramammary breast pain may feel like it’s coming from the breast tissue, but it’s actually caused by an irritation outside the breast. If you pull a muscle while you’re working out, say in your chest, or you have surgery in that area, the pain may radiate to your breasts.

Not totally sure what’s causing your pain? Here are some of the possible triggers and how you can get relief.

You’re about to start your period

3 / 9 You’re about to start your period

As if mood swings and cramps aren’t enough, it's normal to feel cyclical breast pain during your menstrual cycle. The fluctuation of hormones during ovulation can trigger this type of discomfort. In the same vein, treatments that cause hormone fluctuations, like postmenopausal hormone therapy and birth control, can also bring about the achiness.   

While it’s completely natural, it can interfere with your regular daily activities like exercising and sex. So, when you have PMS-induced breast pain, try over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Wearing a supportive bra can also minimize the aches and pains.

You’ve been working out

4 / 9 You’ve been working out

Regular exercise is beneficial for so many reasons; it can boost your mood, help you maintain a healthy weight and lower your risk of diabetes and heart disease. But sometimes, overdoing it at the gym—or even just working muscles you haven’t focused on in a while—may cause extramammary pain in the chest area. Certain activities that work your pectoralis major muscles (a.k.a. chest muscles), like water-skiing, raking, rowing and shoveling, can contribute to the soreness.

When you experience this kind of pain, try applying warm compresses or ice packs and lightly massaging the area. 

You're receiving certain treatments or medications

5 / 9 You're receiving certain treatments or medications

Noncyclical breast pain can be caused by certain medications and treatments. For example, menopausal women who receive hormone therapy to relieve symptoms like hot flashes and vaginal dryness may notice a pain or tenderness during treatment; this discomfort should go away as time goes on. Infertility medications, oral birth control pills and prescriptions that treat depression, heart conditions, anemia, schizophrenia, nausea and migraines can also trigger breast pain.

Unless they interact with your medications, try pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen when you do have treatment-induced breast pain. You can also use a heating pad or ice pack on the area that’s bothering you.

You have large breasts

6 / 9 You have large breasts

If you have large breasts, say DD or bigger, noncyclical breast pain can occur as a result of the added weight. You may deal with pain or soreness in your neck, shoulders and back, too.

A supportive bra is the key to minimizing this pain. A professional lingerie specialist can help guide you through what bras work best for your body type and the size that’s going to be the most comfortable. When looking for a bra, the band around your middle should remain snug in place when you're moving around, but shouldn’t be so tight it’s cutting into your skin. Your straps should be comfortable, not digging into your shoulders.

High-impact workouts may be painful if you have big breasts—and again, the right bra can help. Look for sports bras that have separate cups; this will minimize breast movement when you run or jump up and down.    

You’ve just given birth or are breastfeeding

7 / 9 You’ve just given birth or are breastfeeding

Your chest goes through a lot of changes during pregnancy and childbirth, but you should be prepared for breast changes post-delivery, too. Just after birth, most women experience soreness since breasts are filling with milk in preparation for nursing; this is completely normal. Breastfeeding itself may also cause pain or feelings of fullness—especially if your breasts are overly full, your milk ducts are clogged or if you’re producing too much milk.

New moms with breast pain should contact their OBGYN to talk through the potential causes. Oftentimes, pumping or breastfeeding can reduce the discomfort right away. It’s very important to see your healthcare provider if you have redness, pain, swelling or fever as these symptoms could indicate an infection. 

You have breast cancer

8 / 9 You have breast cancer

Most breast pain is a result of hormonal changes, breastfeeding, breast size or certain medications, so it’s rarely a sign of cancer. But, if your pain is persistent, appears after menopause or is accompanied by the symptoms below, see your OBGYN:  

  • Nipple tenderness
  • Nipple discharge, clear, bloody or milky (if not breastfeeding)
  • A lump or thick spot around the breast or underarm area
  • Skin texture changes such as scaliness, redness or swelling
  • Sudden change in the size of your breasts (shrinking or growth)
  • Breast swelling

Your OBGYN will discuss your medical history and do a physical exam. Depending on that, you may need other tests, such as an ultrasound, mammogram, or even a biopsy. 

When to see your doctor, plus simple ways to keep your breasts healthy

9 / 9 When to see your doctor, plus simple ways to keep your breasts healthy

While it's often a result of benign conditions, unexplained breast pain can be worrisome. If you notice any of the following symptoms, make an appointment with your healthcare provider, so they can rule out serious issues.

  • Nipple discharge, including blood
  • Hard or swollen breasts if you've recently given birth
  • A new lump accompanied by pain that isn’t a result of your menstrual period
  • Infection symptoms like pus, redness or fever

Finally, taking care of your breasts is always a good idea. Maintaining a healthy weight, staying up to date with mammograms, knowing your family medical history and getting to know your breasts so you can recognize changes are all important steps to good breast health.

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