Why Do My Breasts Hurt?

Women experience breast pain at many times in their lives, but what exactly is it and should you be concerned?


Soreness, swelling, heaviness, shooting or burning pangs, tightness in the breasts can all be experienced from puberty to post menopause.

Whatever the feeling, breast pain hurts and can be troubling, too. For many women it is very common to wonder if what you’re feeling might be a sign of breast cancer.

Doctors call breast pain “mastalgia” and it’s important to track the cause of it. Breast tenderness and other discomfort can happen for lots of different reasons.

However, pain in either or both of your breasts in itself isn’t a sign of breast cancer.

Because the reasons can be so varied, let’s look at what most women commonly experience and their causes.

Cyclical breast pain

This is certainly one of the most commonly experienced and is linked to your reproductive cycle if you have some of these signs:

* The pain feels achy and heavy

* Your breasts swell or seem lumpy

* Both breasts are affected, mainly the upper and outer areas. Sometimes, the pain can radiate to your armpits

* Symptoms get worse during the 2 weeks before your period, then improve afterward

* You’re in your childbearing years (around your 20s and 30s), or you’re approaching menopause

The most commonly suggested medical solution is oral contraceptives, a combination of oestrogen and a synthetic progestin, or pain killers.

You can also use hot or cold compresses on your breasts, and wear a firm support bra and always wear a sports bra during exercise. Caffeine can also be a problem so cut back and look at ways to reduce the anxiety and stress associated with severe breast pain.

Hormone levels

Most breast pain seems to relate to the levels of two hormones: oestrogen and progesterone. Doctors aren’t sure what triggers breast pain but it can happen at different times in your reproductive life, such as during puberty, 1st trimester of pregnancy and breastfeeding and menopause.

Fibrocystic breastchanges

This is linked to hormones, as well. Fibrous tissue (breast tissue that’s scar-like or ropey) and cysts (fluid-filled sacs) form in your breasts. It can be painful, but it’s normal and usually harmless.

About half of women in their 20s to 50s get it. You don’t need treatment unless your symptoms are severe.

Fatty acid imbalance

These acids are found in vegetable and animal oils. If there’s an imbalance of them in your cells, your breasts can be more sensitive to hormones.

To reduce your symptoms, try cutting down the fat in your diet to see if your symptoms ease. You could consult a nutritionist to see if altering your diet overall to include would help and taking evening primrose oil can help correct fatty acid imbalances, too.

Non-cyclical breast pain

Breast pain also can be triggered by reasons other than hormones. Yours might be linked to another issue if:

* Your pain feels like soreness, burning, or tightness

* Discomfort is constant (or unpredictable)

* Pain seems to affect one breast in a particular area

* You are post menopause

Mammary breast pain

This pain feels like it’s coming from your breasts but it’s actually radiating from somewhere else, often the chest wall.

Usually, the pain gets better with rest, painkillers and sometimes cortisone injections.

If you strain your pectoralis major muscle (that’s located beneath and around your breasts) it also can feel like your breasts are the source of the pain.

This can result from activities like some gym work, or tasks like lifting heavy objets or even some things like raking and shovelling in the garden if you overdo it.


Though mastitis usually occurs in women who are breastfeeding, it can happen at any age.

If your clothes chafe against your nipples, that can irritate them, too and can let in bacteria that may lead to infection.


Trauma to a particular area of your breast such as from having surgery or getting implants can cause breast pain.

Sometimes an injury can cause a breast vein to swell and a blood clot to form. Though painful, it’s usually not serious.


Certain prescription items such as some heart medications and psychiatric drugs have side effects linked to breast pain so always inform your doctor if you have pain while on such medication.

Also synthetic hormone treatment such as the Pill or HRT can cause breast pain so again check with your doctor.

Support related pain 

Women with large, heavy breasts can suffer pain from stretched ligaments and breast tissue. It can hurt not only in your breasts, but in your back, neck, and shoulders, as well.

Reduction surgery may help but it, too, can cause pain if tissue is damaged during the operation.

A supportive properly fitted bra can help keep your breasts in place as can wearing a sports bra to bed and when exercising.