Breast pain, or mastalgia, is very common. Possible causes of breast pain include hormonal changes, an incorrect bra fit, and infections. Breast pain management will depend on its cause, but painkillers and lifestyle changes can often help in mild cases.

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Pain in the breast affects approximately two-thirds of females during their reproductive years, and it is one of the most frequent complaints of those ages 15–40 years.

Breast pain may have an obvious external cause, such as sports injuries and latching irritation during chestfeeding. However, the cause may not always be as clear as this.

Keep reading to learn more about some of the possible causes of breast pain and get tips on how to manage this symptom.

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Tender or swollen breasts are usually related to the hormonal changes before a period, pregnancy, or menopause. This type of breast pain usually causes tenderness in both breasts, and it may extend to the armpit.

When breast pain is related to the menstrual cycle, it is known as cyclic breast pain. Cyclic breast pain can be part of a set of symptoms that occur before a period, known as premenstrual syndrome (PMS), or it may occur on its own.

PMS is temporary, but people can treat the symptoms by taking over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers, wearing a comfortable and supportive bra, and using gentle heat to soothe the pain.

Bras can cause breast pain if they are too tight or they contain an underwire that digs into the skin or breast tissue.

People can get a bra fitting for free at many department stores to find the right size. They may wish to purchase non-wired, supportive, and comfortable bras if they experience soreness before their period.

Supportive bras can also help when exercising. According to a 2021 article, 60–70% of women report less breast pain when they wear a sports bra during exercise.

Fibrocystic breast changes are harmless but potentially uncomfortable symptoms that cause the breasts to feel lumpy or otherwise different in texture due to hormonal fluctuations. Fibrocystic breast disease is the most common type of noncancerous breast condition.

The symptoms may include:

  • breasts that feel firmer or thicker than usual
  • tenderness
  • lumps or cysts
  • sensitive nipples

The treatment or management of fibrocystic breasts may involve:

If fibrocystic breast changes may be related to a new contraceptive, it is important to speak with a doctor before making any changes to the dosage.

Mastitis is the term for inflammation or swelling in the breasts. The usual cause is an infection. Although the condition most often affects those who are chestfeeding, it can occur in people who are not.

The treatment for an infection is antibiotics. A person who is chestfeeding will also need to empty the breasts of milk. If an abscess is present, doctors will drain the pus surgically or remove it with a needle.

Some medications can contribute to the development of breast pain. These include:

People with breast pain should speak with a doctor to find out whether any of their medications could be causing their symptoms.

Both surgery and radiation therapy for breast cancer can cause scar tissue formation. This can result in numbness, pain, and changes in breast texture and appearance.

Treatment options include:

Breast pain can originate from outside the breast rather than within it. For example, sprains or injuries in the back, neck, or shoulder might cause pain that a person feels in the breast.

When people perceive pain in a broader area than the site where it originates, this is known as referred pain. The treatment relies on finding the underlying problem.

Costochondritis is inflammation of the costal cartilage, which connects the ribs to the breastbone. The condition can cause sharp chest pain and tenderness, and it may have a gradual or sudden onset.

Treatment may include:

A range of conditions can cause pain in the wall of the chest. This pain can sometimes feel as though it is coming from the breast, even though it is not.

The pain can vary in extent, ranging from one specific area to a wide area of the breast. A person may experience:

Possible causes include:

The treatment will vary based on the cause, but it may involve pain management and avoiding movements that worsen the pain until the root cause has improved.

Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs. They are noncancerous, relatively soft, and more common in premenopausal females. Some cysts do not produce symptoms, but others may cause pain and nipple discharge.

Unless the cysts are particularly large or painful, they do not need treatment. If treatment is necessary, it involves draining the fluid out with a needle.

Breast cancer occurs when cells in the breast mutate and begin growing uncontrollably. Pain in the breast is not usually due to cancer, but this is a possible cause. Other symptoms may include:

  • a lump in the breast
  • pain in any part of the breast
  • any nipple discharge — bloody, clear, or otherwise
  • dimpling or irritation of breast skin

Rarely, people can develop inflammatory breast cancer, which causes different symptoms. These include:

  • pain and tenderness
  • skin discoloration
  • swelling

The treatment options for breast cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, radiation therapy, and biologic therapy. People will often receive more than one of these treatments.

Discover more of the early signs of breast cancer here.

Cyclic pain, which is related to the menstrual cycle, and noncyclic pain have some key differences. The following table compares and contrasts the two types of pain:

Cyclic painNoncyclic pain
varies with hormones in the menstrual cycledoes not vary with the menstrual cycle
common among females in their 20s, 30s, and 40smore common after menopause
generally affects both breasts equallytends to affect one or more localized areas of one breast
may occur alongside tenderness, swelling, or lumpinesspain often feels sharp and burning

If a person has cyclic pain, but the pain is worse in one breast than the other, hormones may not be the only cause.

People can take various steps to relieve the pain of mastalgia. These include:

  • wearing a supportive bra that fits well
  • taking OTC pain medications
  • limiting the intake of chocolate, coffee, tea, and soft drinks
  • applying hot or cold compresses to the breasts
  • getting regular exercise
  • engaging in relaxation methods to reduce stress, anxiety, and tension

It is advisable to speak with a healthcare professional before trying self-care techniques to ensure they are appropriate. In certain circumstances, medical intervention may be necessary.

Below are frequently asked questions relating to breast pain.

Can stress make your breasts hurt?

Research suggests that stress and anxiety can contribute to the onset and severity of breast pain. Studies also show that breast pain is associated with a higher prevalence of stress, anxiety, and depression, potentially causing a cycle of symptoms.

Why does my breast hurt when I press it?

Hormonal changes, mastitis, cancer, and fibrocystic breast changes can all cause tenderness in breast tissue. This tenderness may mean that breasts are painful to the touch.

When should I worry about breast pain?

It is important to seek medical assistance if breast pain:

  • does not resolve with pain medication
  • occurs regularly
  • accompanies cancer symptoms such as skin changes, lump growths, or discharge

There are multiple possible causes of breast pain or mastalgia. This symptom may be cyclic or noncyclic. If the pain is cyclic, it is related to the fluctuating hormones of the menstrual cycle.

Noncyclic breast pain can be due to PMS, fibrocystic breast changes, injuries and sprains, or inflammation around the ribs. Sometimes, cysts or infections are responsible for this symptom.

Although breast cancer is not usually a cause of breast pain, anyone with this symptom should consult a doctor to rule out this condition.