Skip to Content Skip to Navigation

8 a day is
too many

Breast Pain and Aches

What is breast pain? What are the symptoms?

Breast pain, otherwise known as mastalgia, is very common in women, occurring in nearly 70% of women and is rarely linked to breast cancer. Breast pain is a feeling that occurs in the breast region that may cause the breast to feel tender or sore. The pain may range from a dull ache or throb, to a stabbing pain, a burning sensation, or a feeling of tightness. The pain can be constant or can happen occasionally, ranging from mild to severe.

Common reasons of breast pain

There are various reasons why someone may suffer from breast tenderness, pain or sore breast tissue. The pain may be cyclical breast pain, linked to the menstrual cycle and the associated hormonal changes or non-cyclical breast pain, unrelated to your periods.

Cyclical breast pain:

Usually impacts women aged in their 20s-40s. Premenstrual breast pain happens a few days before your period is due, with a mild to moderate pain in one or both breasts depending on the individual. Premenstrual and menstrual pain could go on for a week or longer each month, commencing before and continuing for the duration of the period. The pain can range from moderate to severe, impacting both breasts.

Cyclical breast pain:
Usually impacts women aged in their 20s-40s. Premenstrual breast pain happens a few days before your period is due, with a mild to moderate pain in one or both breasts depending on the individual. Premenstrual and menstrual pain could go on for a week or longer each month, commencing before and continuing for the duration of the period. The pain can range from moderate to severe, impacting both breasts.

Non-cyclical breast pain:
This type of breast pain is more uncommon and is not linked to the menstrual cycle. It is generally described as a burning, aching pain and usually impacts women in their 40s-50s. The pain is often in one area in one breast, commonly located in the inner part of the breast or under the nipple.

Possible causes of breast pain:

Hormonal: Cyclic breast pain is connected to your menstrual cycle. This happens when breast tissue responds to hormonal changes (i,e. the increase of oestrogen and progesterone before a period) within the body.

Breast cysts: Breast cysts are fluid-filled sacs inside the breast.

Breast fibroadenomas: Harmless lumps of glandular and fibrous tissue, usually feel firm and rubbery and have a smooth texture. They are common in young women aged 20 to 40 and the causes of fibroadenoma are unknown. They can become tender before periods. As with any unusual changes to the breast it is best to be checked by a doctor.

Breast size: Breast pain could be due to the heaviness of the breasts, also may be accompanied by neck, shoulder and back pain.

Medication: Some hormonal medication, such as the contraceptive pill or certain antidepressants, may affect breast pain. Sore breasts may also be a side effect of estrogen and progesterone hormone therapies.

Breast Structure: The pain may result from changes in the milk duct or glands, or from trauma such as surgery, leading to breast tenderness. Scar tissue from breast surgery can also be painful even after the incisions appear to have healed.

Fatty acid imbalance: An imbalance of these acids within the cells will cause the breast to feel sensitive.

Physical activity: Straining the area around the breast through physical activity, like heavy lifting, may cause breast soreness.

Breastfeeding: Breast pain could be related to breastfeeding which can cause sore, cracked or itchy nipples. Milk ducts that become blocked can cause mastitis, a painful inflammation of the breast, commonly cause by a bacteria, that remain trapped in the ducts. The breast becomes red, hot, swollen and painful.

Tips On How To Relieve Breast Pain

According to the Cancer Council, there are various ways you can manage breast pain. These include:

  • Ensuring you have a supportive and well-fitting bra, and an appropriate sports bra
  • Wearing a soft, support bra for bed
  • Speak to your doctor about applying non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication or other form of pain relief such as paracetamol
  • Cutting down your caffeine intake
  • Having a hot shower or bath or soothing the pain with a heat pack. Alternatively, some women may find an ice pack more suitable.

If the pain persists or continues to worsen, consult with your GP.

When you should see a doctor about breast pain

It can be difficult to know when you need to worry about breast pain. You should consult a doctor about your breast pain if:

  • The pain lasts longer than a couple of weeks
  • If the pain is in one specific area of your breast
  • If the pain continues to worsen over time
  • If the pain is disruptive to your day-to-day life