Why do my breasts hurt? 9 common causes of breast pain and how to manage them

Women's Health

by Vaishali Trivedi Kent, MD

May 26, 2023

Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is a common concern among women. Although common, it can be alarming—but keep in mind that breast pain is rarely a sign of a serious underlying condition. It’s unusual for breast cancer to cause pain. More often than not, it’s caused by factors such as hormonal fluctuations, infection, injury or lifestyle habits.

Let’s delve into the most common reasons for breast pain, so you can get to the bottom of what’s causing your discomfort.

Cyclical breast pain

1. Hormonal fluctuations

The menstrual cycle brings about a host of changes in a woman's body, including fluctuations in hormone levels. Cyclical breast pain, the most prevalent type, is directly linked to hormonal shifts.

As estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall throughout your cycle, the breast tissue can become tender, swollen and sensitive. Typically, this pain occurs in both breasts and may intensify before menstruation, subsiding as your cycle progresses.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy can also cause painful or tender breasts, especially in the first trimester.

Non-cyclical breast pain

Non-cyclical breast pain, as the name suggests, does not follow a predictable pattern and is often unrelated to hormonal changes. This type of pain is commonly described as sharp, localized and persistent. Below are some of the most common causes.

2. Injury or trauma

An injury to the breast or chest wall, such as a bruise or muscle strain, can cause localized pain. Even minor trauma, like a blow or excessive pressure during physical activity, may lead to discomfort.

3. Fibrocystic breast changes

This benign condition involves the development of small, fluid-filled cysts or fibrous tissue in the breast. While it can cause breast pain, rest assured that it is not associated with an increased risk of breast cancer.

4. Breast infection (mastitis)

When bacteria enter the breast tissue through a cracked nipple or milk duct, it can lead to an infection called mastitis. This condition is typically accompanied by breast pain, swelling, warmth and redness. It commonly affects breastfeeding women but can also occur in women who are not lactating.

5. Costochondritis

Inflammation of the cartilage connecting the ribs to the breastbone can cause chest wall pain that radiates to the breasts. This condition is often triggered by physical strain, injury or respiratory infections.

6. Medications

Certain medications, such as hormonal therapies, antidepressants and cardiovascular drugs, may cause breast pain as a side effect. If you suspect that medication is causing your discomfort, talk to your doctor.

Lifestyle factors

Certain lifestyle factors can also contribute to or exacerbate breast pain. Understanding and modifying these habits can provide relief.

7. Ill-fitting bras

Wearing bras that are too tight or unsupportive can exert pressure on the breast tissue, leading to discomfort. Opt for a properly fitting bra that offers adequate support to alleviate pain and prevent discomfort in the future.

8. High impact exercise

Vigorous physical activities like running or jumping can cause breast pain due to the bouncing motion. Wearing a well-fitted sports bra during exercise can minimize breast movement and reduce your discomfort.

9. Caffeine and dietary choices

Studies have shown a potential link between caffeine consumption and breast pain. Although more research is needed, reducing caffeine intake and adopting a well-balanced diet may help manage breast pain for some individuals.

What to do about your breast pain

While breast pain can be alarming, it is usually not a cause for major concern and it can often be relieved with simple treatments or lifestyle modifications. Talk to your doctor about any discomfort you may be feeling, especially if you experience persistent or worsening breast pain.

Don’t have a primary care doctor? Find one near you today.

About the Author

Vaishali Trivedi Kent, MD, is a breast surgeon on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White All Saints Medical Center – Fort Worth.

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