Do you often suffer from breast tenderness when it’s that time of the month? Do you experience soreness or pain in a specific area of your breasts that keep you from enjoying going out or being active?
You’re not alone. 50% of all women will experience breast pain at some point in their lives, according to the Breast Health Centre. Breast tenderness is common—but it’s not untreatable. In my experience, it's often a sign of a deeper issue, with hormone imbalance being one of the most common root causes of sore breasts.
What Is Breast Tenderness?
Mastalgia, also known as breast tenderness, is not a “disease.” Rather, breast pain is often a symptom or sign of a deeper underlying issue in your body. It's important to note breast tenderness is often benign and harmless, rarely a symptom of something more serious.
Symptoms of mastalgia can include a variety of pain types in the breast, including tenderness, tightness, burning, aching, and heaviness. Women can experience sore nipples and breasts on a regular, consistent basis or intermittently. It can range from mild discomfort to severe pain that prevents activity. It can be in a specific area of one breast or a general pain in both breasts.
As you can see, “mastalgia” has a wide definition. Also known as mastodynia, the symptoms of boob tenderness you may be experiencing are often directly linked to the cause of the pain.
If you’ve been stressing about your breast tenderness, then please be aware it is almost always benign and harmless.
What Causes Breast Tenderness And Swelling?
If you’re experiencing breast tenderness, you want to treat it appropriately so you can get back to living a full and pain-free life. Treating sore breasts and sore nipples starts by understanding breast pain causes.
First, you need to understand if your breast tenderness is cyclic or noncyclic—basically, is it related to your period or not? From there, you can better understand what the potential causes and associated treatments could be.
Cyclic Breast Tenderness
Cyclic breast tenderness is the most common type of breast pain. It’s usually found in both breasts and can feel sore, tender, dull, aching, or heavy. It can be mild to moderate pain that is centered around the breasts but may radiate to the armpit and down the arm.
What hormone causes breast tenderness?
Cyclic tenderness is caused by hormonal changes throughout the month and can be a sign of estrogen dominance. It’s often one of the symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome). Before you get your period, your hormones start to surge and change.
It's common to have sore nipples or breasts before a period. Imbalances of estrogen and progesterone can cause fluid increase and swelling in your breasts. This is another reason you may get premenstrual cramps, back pain, or even headaches during your period. Find out more about the relationship between hormones, pain, and PMS here.
Because cyclic breast tenderness is usually related to PMS, it will often go away without treatment and stop by the end of your period. It’s also more common in younger women or those who are pregnant or breastfeeding, as hormone levels tend to fluctuate more during menstruation and pregnancy.
Noncyclic Breast Tenderness
Noncyclic breast tenderness can happen at any time of the month and is not related to the menstrual cycle. It can occur in both or only one breast, and it can even affect one particular area of one breast. In fact, many women with noncyclic breast tenderness can point to the exact spot where they feel the discomfort. It’s often described as sharp, tight, or burning pain. Here are some of the most likely causes of noncylic breast tenderness:
1. Injury to the breast
There are a number of causes for noncyclic pain. The number one cause is injury to the breast. For example, if you wear poor fitting bras, you fall on your breasts, or your breasts move while running, you could cause trauma to your breast.
2. Fibrocystic breasts
Cysts can appear in the breasts and cause tenderness or pain as well. Women who experience frequent cysts in their breasts often have what’s called “fibrocystic breasts.” These are harmless sacs, but they can cause pain—especially if they rupture. Although these cysts are generally noncyclic, the pain is generally worse prior to menses because of a surge of hormones associated with PMS.
Another possible cause is a fibroadenoma, which is a noncancerous tumor found in the glands. These are round and painless and they can be moved around. Your doctor may do a biopsy to ensure confirm the diagnosis
4. Perimenopause Symptoms
Women who are pre-menopausal may also experience noncyclic breast tenderness because of a fluctuations of hormones related to menopausal changes. In this way, noncyclic pain is more common in women ages 30-50.
Whether you have cyclic or noncyclic breast tenderness, stress will always make your pain worse. Stress releases the hormone cortisol. Producing high levels of cortisol actually decrease the production of progesterone, which your body needs in order to have a regular menstrual cycle. Low progesterone can cause sore breasts and other painful PMS symptoms.
Swollen, achy breasts are one of the first signs of pregnancy. This is due to the increase in progesterone. If paired with a missed period, you may want to visit your doctor.
Pain from breastfeeding can also cause noncyclic pain. Breasts can fill with milk if not feeding or pumping regularly leading to engorgement. This is also common in early postpartum when your milk first comes in. This breast engorgement can cause pain and swelling. Similarly, you can get a painful blocked duct, where there is a backup of milk. This can cause a small lump that can be mistaken for a cyst or fibroadenoma.
Learn more about lactation related breast pain reasons in my book, Healing Your Body Naturally After Childbirth.
8. Infection (Mastitis)
Mastitis is an infection in the breast. It’s often caused by a clogged milk duct in lactating women, but it can also occur in non-lactating women. If you experience other symptoms of infection like fever, aches, fatigue, and breast changes (warmth and redness), visit your doctor.
9. Medication Side Effects
Breast tenderness can be a side effect of a number of medications, including:
- Estrogen or progesterone replacement therapy
- Antidepressants and SSRIs
- Infertility treatments
- Some diuretics
- Antipsychotics, like chlorpromazine
- Blood pressure meds, like spironolactone and methyldopa
Be sure to schedule a visit with your doctor if you believe your breast tenderness is due to a medication side effect.
A poor fitting bra can aggravate and damage the tissue, leading to breast soreness and heaviness.Wear quality bras and sports bras that fit correctly. Buy bras without underwire, as this wire can dig into the tissue of the breast and cause more pain. I’d say this is a great excuse to go splurge on a few new silk-lined bras!
Is Breast Tenderness A Sign Of Breast Cancer?
Breast tenderness is not usually a sign of breast cancer. Breast ache is usually a symptom of hormonal changes or a benign, noncancerous lump.
Although having very sore breasts does not automatically mean you have breast cancer, it is still something you might want to talk to your doctor about. Approximately 1 in 8 U.S. women will develop breast cancer at some point in their lives. Thus, it’s important to be aware of changes in your breast and to meet with your doctor to evaluate your risk.
You should visit your doctor if:
- You are feeling anxious about your pain. Never let pain affect your mental wellbeing.
- The pain persists after your period for 2 or 3 menstrual cycles.
- The pain happens after menopause.
- You do a self-examination and find a lump. (It could be a fibroadenoma or cyst, but better to be safe than sorry.)
- You have a fever, redness, nipple discharge, swollen lymph nodes, or severe pain.
- There is a change to the skin texture or appearance.
- You have a swollen breast or it becomes red or hot.
Should You Take Medications For Sore Breasts and Nipples?
Medications for breast tenderness and other symptoms of PMS exist, but they aren’t the root cause solution and many can make symptoms worse or have some scary side effects. Although 70% of people have breast tenderness at some point, only about 15% of those women require treatment for severe pain. Taking medications is not only unnecessary, but it’s also potentially harmful.
Prescription medications like Danazol and Tamoxifen citrate can be prescribed for severe cyclic pain, but these types of meds actually destabilize your hormones. In fact, you might even find yourself with a nice beard, cystic acne, and painful spotting when on these prescriptions. While Tamoxifen has been shown to be effective for women with severe breast pain, it comes with the added risk of blood clots and endometrial cancer. If estrogen dominance is the issue, skip the drugs and get to the root.
Birth control pills are another common “remedy” for breast tenderness and PMS symptoms, but these too can throw hormones off balance and worsen pain from sore breasts or nipples. The pill minimizes symptoms of PMS because it actually suppresses your hormones and periods… but that same suppression can actually cause breast tenderness as well. And if low mood is part of your PMS picture, you may want to steer clear of hormonal contraceptives or at least have a discussion with your doctor because these hormones are associated with depression. This severe imbalance of hormones can cause long-term damage to your sexual wellbeing.
Over-the-counter medications like NSAIDs can be used in a bind. They only offer temporary relief and can make the underlying problem worse. Meds like acetaminophen and ibuprofen can actually worsen PMS symptoms over time by suppressing ovulation and lowering progesterone.
Medications can and will cause an imbalance of hormones that disrupt your body’s natural processes. Learn more about naturally eliminating PMS symptoms here.
How Can You Naturally Treat Breast Tenderness?
Medications aren’t your only solution. You don’t have to “deal with” breast tenderness anymore. A few simple, natural steps can diminish your sore breasts in no time.
1. Ensure Healthy Estrogen Levels
Estrogen is an incredible hormone, but as I explain in Beyond the Pill, too much of it or the wrong metabolites can cause all kinds of “period problems,” including sore breasts. There are key nutrients and foods that can help support healthy estrogen metabolism so that you are not at the mercy of estrogen dominance.
Foods like broccoli, kale, cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain nutrients, like DIM, that the body uses to process estrogen in the liver. These foods have been shown to be beneficial to balancing estrogen because of the nutrients they contain. This is why Balance – Women's Hormone Support is formulated with DIM, broccoli seed extract, plus Calcium D-Glucarate.
Calcium D-Glucarate aids in estrogen metabolism within the gut. You see, those gut bugs can make an enzyme that reactivates estrogen. So if your liver is able to detox the estrogen, your gut may very well cause it to go back into circulation and lead to estrogen dominance.
2. Hormone Supporting Nutrients
Supplementing with key vitamins magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin E has been shown to improve symptoms of breast tenderness. Magnesium has been shown to relieve symptoms of PMS by reducing inflammation and “reviving” hormone production. Studies show that a combination of vitamin E and B6 can reduce breast pain. A combination of magnesium and B6 can reduce the severity of a number of PMS symptoms, like breast pain, cravings, anxiety, water retention, bloating, oily skin, nausea, back pain, and headaches. This is why you'll find both magnesium and B6 in my Balance Women's Hormone Support formulation.
You can supplement your vitamin regimen with magnesium, vitamin B6, and vitamin E, but you can also naturally add these in your diet as well. Foods with all three nutrients include: almonds, spinach, avocado, and banana. You can also consume magnesium from Swiss chard, figs, pumpkin seeds, and dark chocolate. Vitamin B6 is also present in salmon, chicken breast, avocado, spinach and hazel nuts. Get more vitamin E with sweet potato, sunflower seeds, olive oil, and butternut squash.
3. Evening Primrose Oil
The supplement evening primrose oil has been shown to work as a natural anti-inflammatory. Studies have shown that evening primrose oil may improve rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory diseases. It contains high amounts of unsaturated fatty acids, like omega-6 fatty acids and GLA.
Always consult with a doctor before adding new oils or vitamins to your regimen.
In my practice we typically leverage EPO during the second half of a woman’s cycles.
4. Hormone-Friendly Diet
Diet affects every part of your health and lifestyle. If you are struggling with a hormone imbalance, making a few small changes in your diet can often effectively improve your symptoms.
For breast tenderness, I recommend trying an anti-inflammatory diet, as inflammation is a key contributor to PMS symptoms. This means avoiding gluten, dairy, sugar, and processed foods, which all cause inflammation and upset your body’s hormonal balance. I recommend doing this for at least 6-8 weeks; note if your symptoms improve after 2 cycles.
Increasing fiber in your diet can also be highly beneficial. Fiber helps remove excess toxins and hormones—like estrogen—from your body. Bowel regulation means hormonal regulation, which means no more breast tenderness. So make sure you’re eating plenty of veggies to keep your bathroom trips regular.
Consider decreasing the amount of caffeine you consume if you’re experiencing breast pain. The methylxanthines present in coffee, tea, cola, and chocolate may contribute to inflammation and pain. Moreover, studies have supported that caffeine restriction can be an effective means of breast pain management in fibrocystic breast disease.
I recommend a whole foods diet with lots of vegetables! Consuming a protein-heavy breakfast will keep you full, maintain stable blood sugar and feel energized throughout the day, while also helping to regulate hormones. A whole foods diet with high quality protein, fats and vegetables The Paleo diet also has significant anti-inflammatory benefits that can improve PMS symptoms and breast pain.
Here’s a sample This is my favorite diet while suffering from breast tenderness:
- Breakfast: Scrambled or hard boiled eggs with 1/2 cup salad greens and, a cup of bone broth
- Lunch: Salad with spinach, avocado, sunflower seeds*, and grilled chicken breast
- Dinner: Salmon (prepared with olive oil); side of butternut squash and broccolini or sweet potato
- Snack: Fruit with nut butter, veggies and beet hummus.
* Choose your seeds based on where you are at in your menstrual cycle.
5. Supportive Bras
Get a well fitted, comfortable bra that provides support. Even movements like walking or lying on your stomach can injure your breasts or cause sore nipples, so you always want to ensure proper support. Love your ladies and they’ll love you back.
As discussed, stress makes breast tenderness worse. When you reduce your stress levels, you can decrease cortisol and balance out your hormones. Relaxation, especially yoga, also helps minimize inflammation and PMS. Try meditation, yoga, deep breathing, taking a bubble bath, or walking. Even doing something fun with friends and family can help you fight breast tenderness in no time.
Exercising regularly is an effective way to begin balancing estrogen. Adipocytes (fat cells) produce estrogen and estrogen in turn stimulates fat cells to grow. This is why exercise is crucial to maintaining your hormones and reducing the feeling of sore breasts. Reducing estrogen levels helps regulate the imbalance of hormones that can cause PMS symptoms. Moreover, maintaining a healthy body weight is crucial to overall health and wellness.
Get Help for Breast Tenderness
If your breast tenderness persists, then it is time to dig deeper and find your root cause. Meeting with a licensed practitioner can not only help you eliminate your pain, it can also ensure you’re getting the most individualized treatment.
Breast tenderness can be treated with natural, effective solutions. You just need to know the right treatments for your type of breast pain. One important step you can take today is to begin tracking your symptoms. This can help your doctor figure out the cause and treatment of your pain.
Start becoming your own hormone detective by keeping a journal of your pain. Take note when you start feeling the tenderness:
- Where is it?
- How long does it last?
- How severe is it on a scale of 1-10?
- Do you have any other symptoms?
- When is your period?
- Do you have any skin changes?
- How does the pain impact your life?
Do you suffer from breast tenderness or often have sore nipples?
Leave me a comment below and let me know…
Have you ever experienced this?
Did this article help you understand what causes breast tenderness and what to do about it?
Have you tried any of these recommendations and did they help?
Let me know! I'd love to hear from you!
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- Nahid Fathizadeh, MSc,* Elham Ebrahimi,** Mahboube Valiani, MSc,*** Naser Tavakoli, PhD,**** and Manizhe Hojat Yar, BS. Evaluating the effect of magnesium and magnesium plus vitamin B6 supplement on the severity of premenstrual syndrome. Iran J Nurs Midwifery Res. 2010. 15(Suppl1). 401–405.
- The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team. Fibrosis and Simple Cysts in the Breast. American Cancer Society. 2019.
- Salmon Recommendations.