Breast tenderness

Breast Tenderness - Symptoms, Causes, Treatments


What is breast tenderness?

Sometimes your breasts may feel raw, tender or experience pain when touched even mildly or with no stimulation. This is a common issue that many people experience around their periods and is usually not a cause of concern. Non-cyclical cases are also common and can range from a variety of issues that we will be talking about in this article.

What are the symptoms of breast tenderness ?

Usually, the symptoms are just related to the tenderness felt in the breasts and can appear as:

  • A raw or tender feeling around the breasts, especially near the nipple or areola.
  • A stabbing pain runs through the breasts, which recedes later on.
  • A mild throbbing sensation in the breasts.

Which symptoms along with breast tenderness can indicate a serious underlying cause?

Breast tenderness alone is generally not a cause unless it’s accompanied by other symptoms like:

  • A lump in the breast.
  • A dimpled or puckered appearance of the skin around the breasts.
  • A change in the size, appearance or even the shape of your breasts.
  • Tenderness followed by nipple discharge.
  • A warm feeling of the breasts along with redness or swelling.
  • Fever associated with breast tenderness.
  • Nausea and vomiting after tender breasts.

It is best to seek medical advice as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms associated with tender breasts. However, certain symptoms may require prompt emergency action as they may indicate a serious case of sepsis and these include:

  • Confusion or fainting.
  • Difficulty while breathing.
  • A considerable decrease in the amount of urine you pass.

What are the probable causes and their treatment options?

Breast tenderness alone may be caused by a variety of reasons that are not generally life-threatening like:

  • Wearing bras that do not fit you properly - According to a survey that was conducted in 2008, around 80% of women wear the wrong bra size. In fact, this is more common in women who have larger breasts and the reason is that your breasts can jostle around too much if you go about having an active day without wearing a bra, leading to sore breasts. Also, if you wear bras that are too small, they can put more pressure on your breasts and cause sensitivity.

  • What to do

    Consider getting a professional fit at a store to get the correct measurements of your breasts so that you can buy bras that fit you properly.

  • Hormonal fluctuations during your periods - Known as cyclical breast pain, most females experience breast tenderness around their menstruation. This happens due to the fluctuations in estrogen and progesterone which can lead to enlarged milk glands and an increased number of ducts in your breasts. As a result, the breasts swell up and retain water in them, leading to a painful and tender sensation in your breasts, chest and even your armpits. This usually goes away when your period ends and doesn’t require you to treat it.

  • What to do

    Even though cyclical breast pain does not require treatment to go away, you can try a number of things to get relief:

    1. Take an OTC painkiller to numb the pain.
    2. Use a heat pack or an ice pack to help with the tender feeling.
    3. Reduce salt intake as it can cause more water retention in the body.
    4. Keep away from caffeine as it can increase discomfort.

  • Muscle strain - Sometimes, it is possible to strain your pectoral muscles which lie directly beneath and around your breasts, which can make it seem like your breasts are paining from within. Even though it is more common in athletes and weight lifters, it can happen to anyone.

  • What to do

    Try yoga postures or exercises that can help you relieve the pain, or visit a doctor to get medical advice.

  • Bumps or bruises - It is possible to hurt your breasts while engaging in sexual or non-sexual activities, which can make your breasts feel tender.

  • What to do

    You can try some pain-relieving techniques to help relieve yourself:

    1. Use an OTC painkiller medicine.
    2. Use heat or ice to treat your pain.
    3. Wear more comfortable bras without wires, preferably, so your breasts don’t hurt as much.

  • Pregnancy - The hormonal changes that happen during pregnancy can cause your breasts to become swollen and tender. You may even notice your nipples sticking out more often and all of this can start from the first week of your pregnancy.

  • What to do

    Try these methods to gain some relief from tender breasts during pregnancy:

    1. Use a heating pad or warm towel to reduce the swelling and pain.
    2. Do not engage your breasts during sexual activities in the first few weeks to ward off the discomfort.
    3. Try using breast pads inside your bras to avoid nipple chaffing.

  • Breastfeeding - Sore nipples are a common phenomenon, especially at the beginning of breastfeeding when an improper latch may cause discomfort and dry, cracked nipples. There are other reasons like lactation mastitis, causing breast redness, oversupply of milk leading to hard, painful breasts, plugged milk ducts making your breasts tender and even fungal infections leading to tender breasts.

  • What to do

    Apart from visiting a lactation consultant or a paediatrician, you may also find these helpful:

    1. Try pumping out milk in between feedings to soften your breasts and reduce the pain.
    2. Swap positions while breastfeeding.
    3. Massage the areas with plugged milk ducts using a warm compress to relieve the pain.
    4. Use your own breast milk to soothe your cracked nipples.

  • Hormonal medications - The use of hormonal birth control pills or even hormone replacement therapies may leave you with tender breasts as side effects. Certain infertility treatments also have this side effect on some people.

  • What to do

    There are a number of things you can do to help relieve the pain in this case:

    1. Speak to your doctor and get different birth control pills with a different hormonal combination to see if it suits you.
    2. Use a hormonal IUD for a steady release of hormones, which can lead to less breast tenderness.
    3. If hormones make you uncomfortable, try a non-hormonal IUD to see if it suits you better.
    4. Switch to condoms if hormonal pills don’t suit you at all.

  • Fibrocystic breast changes - This is a benign condition in which your breasts can feel lumpy and even though it’s not dangerous, it can lead to an uncomfortable tender feeling. The pain may worsen during your periods and the condition often makes it more difficult to detect actual breast lumps.

  • What to do

    Try these methods to find relief from this harmless but uncomfortable breast condition:

    1. Use OTC pain medication to reduce the pain.
    2. Try using a heating pad to feel better.
    3. Wearing a supportive bra can take the pressure off of your breasts.
    4. Use oral contraceptives to take care of the symptoms.
    5. See a doctor if you notice any changes like a new lump, bigger lump or pain that keeps worsening even when you’re not on your period.

  • An infection - Called mastitis, infections in the breast tissue is more common in breastfeeding women, although it can happen to anyone. You will typically notice symptoms like swelling, burning, warmth and redness in one breast accompanied by a fever or chills.

  • What to do

    In the case of an infection, you should do the following things:

    1. Visit a doctor to get medicines prescribed for your infection.
    2. Get plenty of rest and remember to increase your fluid intake.
    3. Avoid wearing bras or tight clothing for a while.
    4. Increase breastfeeding to reduce the pain.

  • A cyst - Certain types of cysts may develop in your breasts ranging from small, soft, grapelike ones, to hard lumpy ones. Even though there are usually no symptoms, the spot where your cyst is may feel sore and tender. The cysts usually increase in size around your periods and go back to their usual size when you’re done bleeding. You may even notice some nipple discharge in the case of cysts.

  • What to do

    If you suspect that your breasts feel tender due to a cyst or cysts, you should try the following:

    1. Visit a doctor to rule out something serious and see if you need medications or surgery.
    2. Use an OTC painkiller to help with the pain.
    3. Reduce your salt intake so that you don’t experience swelling and pain.
    4. Use a hot or cold compress, especially around the cyst area, to relieve the pain and get some relief.

    Can breast tenderness indicate breast cancer?

    Typically, most breast tenderness cases have no link to breast cancer and are usually not caused by anything serious. However, if your pain is accompanied by a lump or other symptoms as mentioned, you should visit a doctor to check if you have some serious underlying condition that needs to be addressed.

    Leave a comment

    Please note, comments must be approved before they are published

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.