So, boobs: Overall, they’re pretty great—regardless of their size or shape. But, damn, they can be painful sometimes.
Boob pain can happen for a variety of reasons—check those bra sizes, girls!—but, there’s one super-scary one that breast pain is largely not related to: breast cancer.
“Most breast cancers do not cause pain,” says Diane Young, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Cleveland Clinic’s Willoughby Hills Family Health Center. She said it again, just for good measure: “Having pain in the breast is not usually a sign of breast cancer.” So, phew.
But uh, what does cause breast pain…and is there any way to free yourself from the prison that is sore breasts? Of course there is. Here’s what to know—and do—for your poor, sore chest.
1. You’re on your period—duh.
The most common cause of breast pain is a change in hormones that comes along with your period—specifically the drop in estrogen following ovulation, says Diane Young, M.D., an ob-gyn at the Cleveland Clinic’s Willoughby Hills Family Health Center.
“During ovulation, hormone levels go up—estrogen, progesterone, testosterone—so PMS starts when the hormone levels drop, which is also when women may experience breast pain,” she says.
That pain—also called cyclic pain, because it’s related to your menstrual cycle—is also accompanied by swelling and tenderness on the day before your period begins and the first day of your flow, says Taraneh Shirazian, M.D., assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York.
The good news: It should go away when your period ends. Combination birth control pills can help, says Shirazian, since they prevent ovulation and keep estrogen levels stable. And if you’d rather the skip the OTC pain reliever, primrose oil supplements may also ease soreness, she says.
2. You’ve upped your workouts—or you pulled something.
So let’s say you did some seriously impressive push-ups—followed by some breast soreness the next day. This kind of pain isn’t actually breast pain—it’s from the pectoral muscles instead, which sit right under your breasts, says Young.
Luckily, this pain is only temporary (and, you know, dependent on how much or how hard you work out), and can be treated with pain reliever, as well as applying heat or ice to the muscles, says Young.
3. Your bras aren’t pulling their weight.
When was the last time you got fitted for a bra? If you’ve got breast pain (and haven’t changed your bra size in years), an ill-fitting bra might be to blame.
If yours is too tight or too small, it may be pushing against your breasts (All. Day. Long.), leading to sore boobs, says Shirazian.
The same goes for your sports bras—especially if your breasts are on the larger side. When they’re not supported during high-impact workouts, that extra—er, movement—of your breast tissue actually pulls on itself and its ligaments, causing some serious pain.
An easy fix: Get fitted for all types of bras (yes, even sports bras) and make sure they actually fit in the dressing room. That means no spillage, nothing digging in, and only minimal bouncing when you jump up and down in the dressing room. (Seriously, do it.)
4. Your breasts are on the “lumpy” side.
Sometimes, breasts seem “lumpy” because of fibrocystic breast tissue, says Young. Basically, that just means the breasts have more lumps and bumps. But it’s incredibly common and nothing to worry about, stresses Young.
Those “lumps” that you feel are actually benign cysts—or fluid-filled sacs within the breasts, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). Again, they don’t increase your risk of breast cancer, per the ACS, but they can become larger or more painful and tender when your period begins, due to hormonal changes.
5. Your boobs are sensitive to coffee (yes, really).
If you have fibrocystic breast tissue, you may also be more sensitive to stimulants like coffee, says Young.
“Our breasts have little ducts, and, on occasion, those ducts can swell up due to simulants like caffeine and chocolate,” she says. That swelling, then, causes pain, she adds. If your breasts feel particularly lumpy and you chug coffee like it’s going out of style, ask your ob-gyn if you should consider cutting down.
The more you know!
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