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Here’s What Your Sore Breasts Actually Mean

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Knowing if your sore breasts are the sign of something bigger

Breast soreness is common — especially in developing bodies and while you’re on your period — and with the worry of cancer or lumps, it’s normal to fear the worst. However, what happens when the pain is persistent? Dull pains or aches can be worrisome and irritating.

What’s up with breasts in the first place?

The milk-producing gland is made up of fat and tissue that protects “nerves, blood vessels, and milk ducts.” Breast development is different from person to person, as some people begin to hit puberty around 10 or 11 years old, but many people can begin to grow breasts as early as 8 or as old as 13. After four to five years, a person's breasts are adult-size.

More: Having Breast Cancer at 32 Put Me in Control of My Body

What causes soreness?

Health care professionals call breast pain “mastalgia.” Tracking breast pain is important in order to rule out any potentially worrisome indicators. Here are a few reasons your breasts are sore, throbbing, swelling or in pain.

You’re PMS'ing: During menstruation, a body produces estrogen and progesterone, which contribute to hormonal changes and can cause tender breasts because of swelling. Dr. Alyssa Dweck, a gynecologist in Westchester County, New York, says, “Breast soreness typically occurs right before the period is about to come on.”

This type of soreness is called cyclic pain and typically goes away when your period ends. Dr. Taraneh Shirazian, assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York says birth control can help keep estrogen levels stable, which can help minimize pain in the breasts. For more natural pain relief, try primrose oil supplements.

Working out too much: According to Shirazian, there are pectoral muscles there [muscles beneath the breasts], which can contribute to light breast pain after push-ups or weight lifting. Apply relief to this area with heating pads or a pain reliever. Moreover, if you’re working out without stretching, you may have pulled or strained a pectoral muscle.

Get your bra sized correctly: According to a Triumph study in 2008, 80 percent of women are wearing the wrong bra size. Tightness or underwire can contribute to sore breasts. Moreover, if you don’t have enough support, especially while working out, the up-and-down movement can cause pain. If you have bigger breasts, it’s important to have proper support because bouncing can cause breast tissue to be pulled.

You have lumps: Lumpy breast tissue is known as fibrocystic breast tissue, which is linked to breast soreness during the menstrual cycle. The National Breast Cancer Foundation says this tissue is not linked to breast cancer but is more sensitive to hormonal changes. Fifty percent of people in their 20s to 50s have fibrocystic breast tissue.

You could be beginning menopause: Just like with puberty, menopause is a transitional time for the body because of hormonal changes. On average, people reach menopause around the age of 51, and it is a gradual process that takes between four and 12 years. Breast soreness from menopause feels like burning, stabbing or throbbing. For pain, there are over-the-counter options as well as vitamins for alternative methods.

A change in birth control: Pain that is around all month long could be because of a change in your birth control. Dweck says birth control can cause breast pain in the first month or two because your body is adjusting to the change in hormones. It’s important to note if the pain is one breast or both because one breast may have a cyst, which will feel like a small bubble and could cause a little bit of discharge from the nipple.

More: Understanding the Lumps & Bumps in Your Breasts

When should you worry about pain?

Breast pain accompanied by another symptom is usually a sign you should contact a doctor. Severe pain that hinders you from continuing normal tasks, redness or warmth could be a symptom of an infection. Breast swelling and breast pain can be an early symptom of pregnancy, so make sure to check in with your general practitioner if you find it necessary. Moreover, if you notice discharge from both breasts, contact a doctor right away.

Breast pain is actually rarely a symptom of breast cancer and the only type of cancer it is linked to is inflammatory breast cancer, which is very uncommon and only affects 5 percent of cancer diagnoses.

How to alleviate pesky breast pain?

Every person has a different pain threshold and different treatments work for different people. For some people, an ice pack or heating pad can alleviate pain in breasts. Refraining from caffeine can also help breast pain, but studies on this are still new. Increasing your water intake and eliminating super-salty foods can be helpful when suffering from pain. And as we mentioned before, over-the-counter medication like ibuprofen can be a temporary fix.

More: Breast Cancer In Men Is No Myth — Here's What You Need to Know

Unfortunately, breast pain is the most common pain for women to experience. In a study of 1,171 women, “69 percent said they experienced regular breast pain while on their periods and 11 percent had moderate to severe breast pain more than seven days a month.” 

Living with breast pain can be difficult and upsetting, as it influences mood and ability. Our advice? Stay alert of changes and speak with a general practitioner if you feel something more severe is happening to your body.

By S. Nicole Lane

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