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Why Do My Boobs Hurt?

WUKA experts discuss: what are the common causes of boobs hurting and why do some women experience sore nipples before period? It is a common query from women of all ages, so rest assured you are not alone! But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it. If you’re wondering ‘why do my boobs hurt?’, then read on to find out more.

Why Do My Boobs Hurt?

We’ve all experienced it: boob pain. It might be a dull pain, or it could be sharp, stabbing, throbbing or even aching. Whatever the sensation, breast pain is something that most women can relate to. Why exactly does it happen and what does it mean?

Breast pain, or ‘mastalgia’ as it is technically known, can affect you at any time of your life, and to varying degrees. Some women will only experience very mild pain, while others will find the pain a lot more intense. 

The main reason why your boobs might hurt is down to hormones, but there can be other reasons too. Very rarely is breast pain a cause for concern but, as with any type of pain, it should always be investigated if you are concerned.

woman holding sore boob

Sore Nipples Before Period

Many women instinctively know when their period is about to start, just by the specific pain they experience in the nipples during the days leading up to it. Nipple pain is one of the most common PMS symptoms. We’ve got hormones to thank for that.

Most women find that nipple pain eases once their period starts, although some do experience it at other times in their menstrual cycle too.

Boobs Sore Before Period

Like nipple pain, breast pain before your period is also a common sign of PMS and one of the most common signs your period is coming. This type of pain is called ‘cyclic mastalgia’, because it occurs due to your menstrual cycle and is likely to happen month after month.

Dr. Fiona MacRae, expert in womans health and bioidentical hormone replacement therapy for the Marion Gluck Clinic, explains more about why it happens: 

'Sore boobs before a period may be due to fluctuations in sex hormones, oestrogen and progesterone, which accompany the normal menstrual cycle. An increase in oestrogen in the second half of the menstrual cycle may stimulate the breast glandular tissue causing swelling and pain. In addition, a sudden decline in progesterone before a period may result in unopposed oestrogen activity which can augment this effect. This is a completely normal symptom.'

Again, for most women this pain is likely to subside once your period starts and, as Dr. MacRae advises, this is totally normal and just part of your regular menstrual cycle. That said, if you do experience extreme breast pain during your period and are concerned about it, it is worth getting it checked out, as Dr. MacRae explains:

'It [breast pain] can be exaggerated in some females and be part of a syndrome of oestrogen dominance that may be amenable to hormone treatment. For most, a well-fitting, supportive bra and simple analgesia is all that is required.'

You probably already know what’s normal for you during your cycle, but it is always worth keeping a track of symptoms like this so that any changes can be spotted straight away.

illustrated breasts

Symptoms of Breast Pain

Not sure if what you’re experiencing is cyclical mastalgia or something else? It is always a good idea to be familiar with the common symptoms of breast pain just in case and, if you are concerned at all, then speak to your doctor.

Common symptoms include: a feeling of tenderness in the boobs; sharp, stabbing pains; dull, aching throbbing or a heavy aching sensation. 

Cyclic breast pain can occur up to two weeks before your period begins, gradually intensifying before beginning to ease as your period starts.

It usually (but not always) affects both breasts and some women experience a spread to the armpits too. This is all completely normal, and is often coupled with some swelling and a feeling of fullness in the breasts too. 

My Boobs Hurt

While we know that sore boobs are a normal part of our menstrual cycle, thankfully there are steps we can take to ease the pain. Try out a few remedies to find the one that works best for you.

First and foremost, make sure you always wear a good, supportive bra. Wearing a bra that doesn’t support your boobs can lead to overstretching of the ligaments that connect the breasts to the chest wall, resulting in sore, achy boobs, especially noticeable during exercise. Go for a fitting if you’re not sure what size you are. You might be amazed at the difference this can make! Our sustainable bralette is made to be gentle on your body when you're experiencing tenderness or swelling during your period.

Cut down on caffeine. Lots of women anecdotally report that their breast pain eased significantly just by doing this, perhaps due to the fact that caffeine is known to affect hormone levels, which can lead to swelling and tenderness in the boobs.

Apply an analgesic gel to the area, or take paracetamol or ibuprofen to ease the pain. 

Take a warm bath or shower, or apply a heat pack to the area. Alternatively, some women find that an ice pack can work well too.

Everyone manages pain differently, and everyone experiences varying degrees of mastalgia too, but if you do find that you regularly need to take pain relief for sore boobs, it might be worth speaking to your doctor about it.

supportive bra

Breast Pain Not Caused By Periods

Breast pain experienced during your menstrual period is known as cyclical mastalgia, and breast pain caused by other factors is known as non-cyclical mastalgia. 

Sometimes, sore boobs can be the result of non-cyclical mastalgia, so it is important to get to know what is ‘normal’ pain for you, and be able to spot the signs when something isn’t quite right. 

Breast pain isn’t often associated with breast cancer, and experiencing sore boobs doesn’t increase your risk of getting it either. If you have a history of breast cancer in your family and you are worried about it, you should speak to your GP about your concerns. 

Dr. Shivani Dattani, GP at London Gynaecology, goes on to explain further:

'Breast tumours and cancers are a very uncommon cause of breast pain. Fluid-filled lumps (cysts) are sometimes painful. However, it is very unusual for breast cancer to cause pain without there being a lump to feel.'

Always seek medical advice if you experience redness or discolouration alongside swelling. Likewise, if you feel a hard lump in your breast that does not move around, you notice dimpling or a rash, you have discharge leaking from the nipple or your nipple appears sunken into the breast – these are all symptoms that you should get checked out.

For most women, non-cyclical breast pain can be put down to a variety of easily treatable causes, including:

  • pregnancy and/ or breastfeeding;
  • wearing an incorrectly fitted bra;
  • stress;
  • weight gain;
  • certain medications, such as the contraceptive pill and some anti depressants;
  • certain types of physical activities;
  • injuries or sprains to the neck, shoulder or back;
  • illness such as mastitis or a breast abscess.

woman pointing at breasts on t-shirt

The NHS advises that if you experience breast pain with a spike in temperature, and your breasts feels hot and swollen, then you should seek medical advice to rule out infection.

If you are concerned that you are experiencing any type of non-cyclical mastalgia, it’s important to speak to your GP for further advice. Making notes on the type of pain you experience, and the location you feel it in can be helpful, especially if you find the pain is intense. These are questions that you are likely to be asked, so being prepared never hurts. 

Likewise if you are feeling confused about whether your sore boobs are down to your period or not, Dr. Dattani adds:

'If you are not sure which type of breast pain you have, it is worth keeping a diary for a few months to record when you have the breast pain and to try to identify a pattern. You can then discuss this with your GP.'