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6 Reasons Your Boobs Hurt

Pregnancy isn't the only cause of breast pain.

Medically reviewed in June 2022

Updated on June 29, 2022

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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 although the issue can be as simple as wearing the wrong bra, breast pain can also indicate more serious health conditions.

Here’s what you should know about the different types of breast pain and their most common causes—plus, what to do about it. 

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There are different types of breast pain

First thing’s 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 during the two weeks before your period begins and affects both breasts.
  • Noncyclical breast pain has nothing to do with your menstrual cycle, 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 chest muscle while working out or 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.

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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 after 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 achiness.   

While this pain completely natural, it can interfere with your regular daily activities like exercising and sex. So, if you have breast pain before your period is due, speak with your healthcare provider (HCP) about trying over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen or naproxen. Wearing a supportive bra can also minimize aches and pains.

workout, fitness, rowing machine, gym, exercise, young woman
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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. 

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You're receiving certain treatments or medications

Noncyclical breast pain can be caused by some common medical 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 and oral birth control pills can also trigger breast pain, as can prescriptions that treat depression, heart conditions, anemia, schizophrenia, nausea, and migraines.

Unless they interact with your medications—and after checking with an HCP—try pain relievers like acetaminophen or ibuprofen when you do have treatment-induced breast pain. Acetaminophen may cause or worsen nausea in some people. You can also use a heating pad or ice pack on the area that’s bothering you.

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You have large breasts

If you have large breasts, 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 and well-fitting bra is the key to minimizing this pain. A professional lingerie specialist can help guide you through the bras that 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 ribs should remain snug in place when you're moving around, but shouldn’t be so tight that it’s cutting into your skin. Your straps should be comfortable and not dig 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.

breastfeeding, breast feeding, nursing
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You’ve just given birth or are breastfeeding

Your breasts go 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 while their breasts fill 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 high levels of milk. A warm compress can help unclog milk ducts. 

New moms with breast pain should contact their OBGYN, midwife, or lactation consultant 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 (HCP) if you have redness, excessive pain, swelling, or fever as these symptoms could indicate an infection. 

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You have breast cancer

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

  • Nipple tenderness
  • Nipple discharge that is 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

You should also reach out to an HCP if your pain is very localized and only on one side, rather than general and across both breasts. Though most breast cancers present as painless masses, feeling pain in one specific spot could be a sign of the condition.

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. 

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

Although 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 HCP, so they can rule out serious issues.

  • Nipple discharge, including blood
  • Persistent breast pain that doesn’t seem to resolve on its own
  • 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. Wearing a well-fitting and supportive bra during physical activity, 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.

Slideshow sources open slideshow sources

Mayo Clinic. Breast pain. January 16, 2021. Accessed June 22, 2022.
Nemours Teen Health. My Breasts Ache During My Period. What Can I Do? November 2020. Accessed June 22, 2022.
MedlinePlus. Breast Pain. October 16, 2020. Accessed June 22, 2022.
National Library of Medicine. Breast pain. Accessed June 23, 2022. 
La Leche League. Mastitis. Accessed June 23, 2022. 
National Breast Cancer Foundation. Breast Cancer Symptoms and Signs. Medically Reviewed on April 15, 2020. Accessed June 23, 2022.
Goyal A. Breast pain. BMJ Clinical Evidence. 2014 Oct 14;2014:0812. 
Ader DN, Shriver CD, & Browne MW. Cyclical mastalgia: Premenstrual syndrome or recurrent pain disorder? Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics & Gynecology. Published online 07 Jul 2009.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Breast Cancer: What Are the Symptoms of Breast Cancer? September 20, 2021. Accessed June 29, 2022.

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