What Causes Sensitive Breasts and How Is It Treated?

Although women are more likely to experience sore breasts, this can affect anyone who has breast tissue.

In addition to sensitivity, you may also experience:

  • tenderness
  • aching
  • fullness
  • throbbing

Breast pain can be alarming, but it usually isn’t cause for concern. Breast pain is rarely a symptom of cancer, and there are several reasons why perfectly healthy breasts may start to hurt.

Here’s what may be behind your symptoms and what you can do to find relief.

1. It’s your bra

One of the most common causes of breast pain is an ill-fitting bra. Bras provide support for the heavy, fatty tissue in a woman’s breasts.

A bra that is too big, too old, or too stretched out may not provide the support you need. When your breasts jostle around all day, they can easily get sore. You may also feel sore in your back, neck, and shoulders.

On the flipside, wearing a bra that’s too small — or too tight — can put too much pressure on your breasts and lead to sensitivity.

Think you wear the right size? You could be wrong. One 2008 study found that 80 percentTrusted Source of women wear the wrong bra size. Researchers found this to be particularly common among women with larger breasts.

What you can do

If you think your bra may be to blame, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are your breasts spilling out over the top of your bra?
  • Does the back strap dig into your skin?
  • Are you wearing your everyday bra on the tightest or loosest buckle?
  • Does your bra ride up in the back?
  • Is there a gap between your breast and the cup?

If you answered yes to any of the above, consider a professional fitting at a department store or lingerie shop. Many women find it difficult to measure themselves at home, and a professional fitting is often much more accurate.

You can also try an online service, like Thirdlove, that lets you test a bra at home before you buy it.

2. It’s a muscle strain

Your pectoral muscles (commonly called pecs) lie directly beneath and around your breasts. When you strain this muscle, the pain can feel like it’s coming from inside your breast. This type of breast pain is usually limited to one breast.

You may also experience:

  • swelling
  • bruising
  • difficulty moving your arm or shoulder

Pectoral muscle strains are common in athletes and weight lifters, but they can easily happen to anyone. Typical household activities like raking, shoveling, or even lifting your baby can lead to a pectoral strain.

What you can do

Most pectoral strains can be treated at home:

Treat pain and inflammation with over-the-counter (OTC) medications like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).

Rest is important for healing. Cool it on the weight lifting and upper body exercises for a few days.

Stretching can help, so try doing a yoga or Pilates video at home

Heat may help ease the pain and will make stretching more effective. Try an electric heating pad or hot water bottle.

3. It’s a bump or bruises

Have you ever woken up with a bump or bruise on your leg that you don’t remember getting? This can also happen to your chest.

For example, it could be because you carried a heavy cross-body bag or bumped yourself while carrying a sleeping child. Sex is also a common cause of breast injury, whether you bent over something, were grabbed too hard, or otherwise squished and jostled.

What you can do

Minor pains from a bump or bruise will typically fade in a few days.

You can try the following to help ease your symptoms:

Take an OTC pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) treat pain and reduce swelling.

Apply ice or heat. Use whichever works to relieve the pain.

Change bras. Something soft and supportive — usually without underwire — may be more comfortable.

4. It’s your period

Most female breast pain results from hormonal changes. Doctors call this cyclical breast pain, because it’s directly associated with your menstrual cycle.

Hormones like estrogen and progesterone fluctuate throughout the month, wreaking all sorts of havoc on your body and your brain. Estrogen and progesterone can actually increase the size and number of ducts and milk glands in your breasts. This causes the breasts to swell and retain water.

A few days before your period starts, both breasts can swell and become tender, painful, or even lumpy. You may also feel pain around your breasts, including the upper chest, outer sides of the breasts, the armpit, and the arm.

Breast sensitivity and tenderness should go away as soon as your period ends.

What you can do

Lifestyle changes and home remedies are often enough to help ease your symptoms:

Take an OTC pain reliever. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) treat pain and reduce swelling.

Apply ice or heat. Use whichever works to relieve the pain.

Avoid caffeine. It can increase the discomfort.

Wear a “period bra.” You probably have period underwear, so complete the set with a larger bra that won’t squish your swollen breasts.

Reduce your salt intake. Salt contributes to water retention and swelling in the breasts. The swelling is part of what makes your breasts so sensitive.

Practice mindfulness. Stress makes pain feel worse. Make sure you get plenty of sleep and try a relaxation technique, like yoga or meditation.

If home remedies aren’t working, talk to your doctor about hormonal birth control. Birth control stops ovulation, which may reduce your premenstrual symptoms.

5. It’s a sign of pregnancy

When you first get pregnant, your body goes through a lot of hormonal changes. Hormones trigger transformations that prepare your body to sustain a pregnancy.

In the first weeks of pregnancy, you may notice your breasts are swollen and tender. Your nipples might also stick out.

Other early symptoms of pregnancy include:

  • missed periods
  • nausea with or without vomiting
  • peeing more often than usual
  • fatigue
  • constipation and heartburn
  • changes in food preferences

If your breast pain is severe, talk to your OB-GYN. You should also tell your doctor if you feel a lump, notice skin changes, or experience discharge.

What you can do

Your breasts and your body will undergo a lot of changes while you explore your options for family planning or abortion.

Here’s what you can do to find relief:

Apply heat. An electric heating pad or a moist, warm towel may reduce pain and swelling in early pregnancy.

Keep your hands off. In the first few weeks, breast play and typical lovemaking can be uncomfortable. Experiment with new positions that don’t involve breast contact.

Get a new bra. Get fitted for a new bra at least once during your pregnancy to compensate for your growing breasts.

Use breast pads. You can use breast pads — linings for the inside of your bra —during your first trimester to prevent nipple chaffing.

Wear a bra to bed. Many women find that wearing a maternity or sports bra helps them sleep more comfortably.