The Causes of Pain Under the Breasts

09 March, 2021
We can experience pain under our breasts for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it's simply an effect of hormonal changes or muscle problems. Only rarely is it a sign to be concerned.

Pain under the breasts is a common symptom that can be caused by a variety of factors. Some of them are normal processes of the body that result in this discomfort. Other times, the cause is a major health condition.

Pain under the breasts can take many forms. Sometimes there’s a burning sensation or the pain is diffuse and not very pronounced. It can also appear as a very localized and intense pain. In the latter case, it’s important to consult a physician as soon as possible, as it may be a sign of a serious problem.

It should be noted that pain under the breasts is more common in young women and in those who have already gone through menopause. Approximately 70% of women report having had such pain at some time during their lives, but only 15% have required medical treatment. We’ll tell you all about the main causes of this discomfort in this article.

Menstruation, hormonal changes and pregnancy

Many women experience certain discomfort before menstruation, including pain under the breasts. Breast tenderness is due to increased estrogen and progesterone, and is perfectly normal. The pain usually disappears after ovulation.

The hormonal changes that occur during menopause also create similar discomfort. Pain under the breasts occurs in premenopause as well as in menopause and postmenopause.

It’s very common for pregnant women, especially if they’re new mothers, to feel pain below their chest. This is due to the growth of the breasts, the position of the baby or changes in the body to accommodate the fetus. It may also be the result of heartburn, reflux, or gallbladder or liver problems.

A woman with breast pain.
Hormonal changes, at any age, can produce pain in the female breast.

Keep reading: Breastfeeding and Female Sexuality

Costochondritis causes pain under the breast area

Costochondritis, also known as Tietze’s syndrome, is an inflammation of the cartilage connecting the sternum to the ribs. It’s sometimes accompanied by arthritis in the upper back or neck, and this often causes a kind of numbness in the chest.

In these cases, people also experience pain under the breasts, giving the sensation that it’s a mastalgia – specific breast pain – even though it’s not. This health issue is more frequent in women over 40 years of age.

Very large breasts

The larger the breasts, the greater the likelihood of pain under the breasts. Very large breasts cause such discomfort and also frequently cause pain in the neck, back, and shoulders.

In some cases this leads to limitations in some physical activities. Sometimes stretch marks or skin irritations also appear in the area. Excessive breast size can only be corrected definitively by surgery.

Unsuitable bra

A woman with a bra.
A bra that’s unsuitable for a woman’s bust may cause pain.

A bra that just isn’t right for the woman’s breast could cause her a lot of pain.

One of the biggest mistakes is to choose a bra that doesn’t have the right fit. It shouldn’t compress the breasts and shouldn’t leave enough room for it to ride up or change position easily.

Sometimes, bras that come with metal underwires can also cause discomfort for some women. An inadequate bra not only causes pain under the breast, but can also cause back or shoulder pain. It’s best to wear good quality bras, even if they cost a little more.

Discover: Can Bras Cause Breast Cancer?

Other causes of pain under the chest

Many times pain under the chest is related to problems in the chest wall or ribs. This is true in women of all ages. Sometimes it’s intercostal neuritis, which is an irritation or inflammation of the network of nerves between the ribs.

Also, the pain may be related to a muscular problem, caused by a sudden or abrupt movement. This is what we commonly call a muscle pull.

It’s also possible that the pain has its origin in other organs and is reflected in the chest wall. For example, diseases of the gall bladder and inflammation of the liver produce this effect, as well as infections in the lungs or heart problems.

In addition, you shouldn’t rule out any process in the breasts themselves, such as cysts or tumors. Hence the importance of consulting when in doubt in order to carry out the appropriate complementary tests to get the proper diagnosis.

  • Torres, L. F. P., Pavón-Jiménez, R., Sánchez, M. R., Valderrama, J. C., & Pardo, J. A. M. (2002). Unidad de dolor torácico: seguimiento a un año. Revista Española de Cardiología, 55(10), 1021-1027.
  • Rokicki, W., Rokicki, M., & Rydel, M. (2018). What do we know about Tietze’s syndrome?. Kardiochirurgia i torakochirurgia polska = Polish journal of cardio-thoracic surgery, 15(3), 180–182. https://doi.org/10.5114/kitp.2018.78443