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.
A note about sex and gender
Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.
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.
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,
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
The symptoms may include:
- breasts that feel firmer or thicker than usual
- lumps or cysts
- sensitive nipples
The treatment or management of fibrocystic breasts may involve:
- taking OTC pain medication
- applying cool or warm compresses
- avoiding a large intake of salt, caffeine, or fat
- starting or stopping birth control pills
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
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:
- digitalis preparations, such as digoxin (Digox), which treat congestive heart failure and abnormal heart rhythm
- chlorpromazine (Thorazine), a medication for mental health disorders
- certain potassium-sparing diuretics, such as eplerenone (Inspra) or spironolactone (Aldactone)
- oxymetholone (Anadrol), which treats low red blood cell count
- methyldopa (Aldomet), which is a treatment for high blood pressure
People with breast pain should speak with a doctor to find out whether any of their medications could be causing their symptoms.
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.
Treatment may include:
- avoiding activities that worsen the pain
- applying heat to the area
- OTC pain relievers
- corticosteroid injections
- undergoing transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a procedure that applies an electric current to an area to reduce pain
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
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.
- 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
- pain and tenderness
- skin discoloration
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:
|varies with hormones in the menstrual cycle
|does not vary with the menstrual cycle
|common among females in their 20s, 30s, and 40s
|more common after menopause
|generally affects both breasts equally
|tends to affect one or more localized areas of one breast
|may occur alongside tenderness, swelling, or lumpiness
|pain 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
- 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.
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.