Woman in pain holding her breast

Breast pain (or mastalgia) is a common condition that affects many people. However, it is more common in people assigned female at birth, impacting about two-thirds of the said population during their reproductive years (via StatPearls). Breast pain can range from mild discomfort to severe and disabling pain, it can be either constant or intermittent, and both internal and external factors can cause it.

Cyclic breast pain is linked to hormone variations characteristic of the menstrual cycle, usually occurring one to two weeks before menstruation and declining after the start of the period. It may come with additional symptoms like breast tenderness, swelling, and lumpiness. Meanwhile, non-cyclic breast pain has nothing to do with hormonal changes, and may be caused by numerous reasons (e.g., injury, infection, other breast conditions, medications). It is described as a sharp pain that can affect a specific breast area. Lastly, extramammary pain originates somewhere else in the body but feels as if it comes from the breasts.

While breast pain is rarely a sign of breast cancer, it is important to seek medical attention if it doesn’t go away or doesn’t improve after taking painkillers, you feel a lump or mass in the breast or armpit (especially if it doesn’t go away after your menstrual cycle), you experience nipple discharge or retraction, or if you notice any changes in the breast skin, such as dimpling or puckering. Here are some unexpected reasons that may lead to breast pain and how to treat them.

You have an ill-fitting bra or chest binder

woman with irritated skin under bra

When it comes to bras, keep in mind that they’re designed to support your girls. Thus, wearing a bra that is too tight can compress or squeeze them, while a bra that is too loose allows your breasts to move around excessively. Either way, you’ll most likely end up with chronic breast pain and maybe even shoulder and back pain, too. Whether you’re wearing an everyday bra, sports bra, or bralette, avoiding the ones that don’t fit properly can significantly help reduce breast pain (yes, even if they’re cute). In fact, up to 70% of people report feeling less discomfort simply by switching to an adequately fitted bra (via StatPearls). When choosing a bra, avoid going for ones with bands, cups, or straps that are too tight, too small, too large, or too loose. Also, be mindful of how the underwire fits, and ditch those that dig into the breast tissue.

Chest binders are a type of undergarment worn by people who wish to flatten their chest. However, by putting pressure on the breasts, they can cause several side effects (like shortness of breath and rubbing or chafing against the skin) that can lead to breast pain, irritation, and soreness (via Healthline). Luckily, you can easily resolve the pain by finding a binder that fits properly or taking breaks from wearing it. Prioritize your comfort and well-being when choosing a bra or binder, as prolonged discomfort can have a negative impact on your overall health and quality of life.

You’re pregnant

pregnant woman with breast pain

While many people realize they’re pregnant when they miss a period or two, others may start to notice pregnancy symptoms way before that, and, as it happens, having sore breasts is a common early sign of pregnancy. In fact, per the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, sore and swollen breasts or nipples may occur as early as two weeks after conception, and it is caused by both hormonal and physical changes in the body.

As a 2020 article published in the Journal of Breast Imaging explains, pregnancy is accompanied by ​​a significant increase in hormone levels, namely estrogen and progesterone. These hormones prompt the breast tissue to prepare for breastfeeding, which can cause the breasts to become more sensitive and more prone to pain. At the same time, these hormonal changes also cause the milk ducts and glands to enlarge, increasing breast tissue volume and leading to physical changes such as larger breasts. Thus, with pregnancy come feelings of heaviness or fullness that add up to the soreness and pain in the breast tissue.

Mother breastfeeding her baby
woman with hormones with yellow background
Woman in sports bra with breast pain
woman working out her chest muscles
Man taking a pill with water
Doctor examining patients breasts
hands holding pink ribbon