Exercise (don’t think about riding a horse, don’t think about riding a horse…), sleeping on your stomach, big bear hugs, sex: sore breasts can really interfere with your life. “I wanted to wrap my boobs in crime scene tape,” a woman told me recently. “You know, the kind that says ‘do not cross.’ Honestly, they hurt so much, I had to point the shower head further north.” Because they are so common and can have such an impact on our daily lives, sore breasts are our Symptom of the Month.

 

“I wanted to wrap my boobs in crime scene tape.
You know, the kind that says ‘do not cross.'”

Why your breasts hurt

Breast pain (officially known as “mastalgia”) is familiar to most women; up to 70 percent of women experience it at some point. That breast sensitivity just before your period is “cyclical” mastalgia and is caused by ….? You guessed it: hormone fluctuations. Those same shifting hormones can cause the girls to get a bit lumpy and swollen as well, so it’s good to know what’s going on. This is often experienced in relation to pregnancy, as similarly disruptive painful sex is often a postpartum symptom. However, hormone-prompted breast pain can also happen in perimenopause, though in the good-news column, most women don’t experience breast pain after menopause is complete, hoorah!

While hormones are a big cause of breast pain, they’re not entirely to blame. We asked Naturopathic Doctor Suzanne McMurry of Full Circle Natural Medicine to help us understand what causes breast pain – particularly when it’s not necessarily our cycle anymore – and what we can do about it.

Dr. Suzanne McMurry, naturopathic doctor for women in midlife and menopause

Dr. Suzanne McMurry

“As far as breast soreness in menopause, there are some factors that can definitely influence this. First, if the women is on bioidentical hormones, or just hormones in general, the dosage may be too high. She should have her hormone levels tested, through blood work, by her gynecologist or primary care doctor.

“Second is diet related. This relates to either food sensitivities, specific to Immunoglobulin-G related food allergies. (Not the allergies that cause life-threatening reactions, but those that result in symptoms that continue to get worse over time.) These allergies trigger the immune system, increasing inflammation and resulting in symptoms related to breast tenderness, joint aches, digestive upset, headaches and migraines, just to name a few. Caffeine consumption also has a strong, direct correlation with breast tenderness. If you’re drinking more then 1 cup of coffee daily, substitute the rest with decaf or better yet, herbal teas and water, and do this for a week. Does this improve your pain?

“Third relates to excess fatty tissue. In menopause, your ovaries are no longer producing estrogen. The main driver in estrogen production at this stage is your fat tissue. Some women store most of their fat in their breasts, others in various other places (stomach, hips, etc.). This excess fat can give you symptoms related to what you may have experienced during or around your menstrual cycle. Exercise, Epsom salt baths, sauna treatments, all are great ways to eliminate the estrogens released from your fat tissue. These treatments also help to detoxify your body, enabling efficient and effective elimination of hormones.

“Lastly, plastics and those products in our environment that produce xenoestrogens. Xenoestrogens are found in plastic containers and leach into our foods when they undergo high temperatures, like heating your food in the microwave. Xenoestrogens have a strong binding capacity to our estrogen receptors within our own bodies. This in turn produces an even stronger reaction, stronger than our self-made estrogen. The strong reaction results in even stronger symptoms, related specifically to breast tenderness, breast enlargement, headaches, and irritability and moodiness.” To avoid xenoestrogens in your food, always use glass containers in the microwave.

How do you combat breast soreness and tenderness? 

In addition to Dr. McMurry’s expert advice, some additional lifestyle adaptations could help you be more comfortable.

  1. Stop smoking. Smoking generally makes menopause symptoms worse, and breast pain is no exception. According to North Mississippi Medical Center, nicotine causes blood vessels to narrow, which can increase breast pain.
  2. Get fit. That is, make sure you’re wearing the right bra type and size. The wrong fit can be painful or even damaging to breast tissue. And you may need to get refitted a time or two as breast size and shape can change during perimenopause and menopause. If you’re an athlete, make sure your sports bra is supportive enough to keep up with your exercise regimen.

[Click here for Victoria Secret’s Find Your Perfect Fit guide.]

  1. Reduce salt, increase hydration. Salt can make your body retain extra fluid, and one place that fluid is stored is the breast. Perhaps counterintuitively, drinking water helps your body flush out excess liquids, so maybe bump it up a glass or two.
  2. Add iodine and flaxseed. Some say take an iodine supplement, others recommend a few drops in a drink, still others suggest applying it directly to the skin. As with all supplements, check with your doc, then decide which works best for you. Flaxseed also seems to support breast health and reduce pain; this article recommends two tablespoons of crushed flaxseed a day.
  3. Supplement your diet. Many women report relief from adding a supplement of Vitamin E and/or evening primrose oil. As always, let your doctor know if you’re taking supplements.
  4. Pick your pain reliever. If none of the above work or work quickly enough, aspirin, acetaminophen, and ibuprofen are all pretty effective in handling breast pain. But as over the counter medications can cause stomach upset in some women, try making lifestyle adjustments as well – you may find they’re very effective over time for lots of what ails you in midlife.

[What supplements should women take in midlife? Find out.]

When to consult a doctor*

ANY TIME YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO. Honestly, you know your body best, and if something seems wrong, that’s all the “permission” you need to consult with a doc.

Most of the time, breast pain is benign and doesn’t require medical attention. However, if breast pain lasts for several months, worsens, or is accompanied by a persistent lump, go get yourself checked out. If your breast pain comes with numbness in hands or fingers or other chest pain, get help immediately, as that can indicate a heart attack.

Sore breasts don’t need to be a fact of life. If you’re experiencing cyclical or non-cyclical breast pain, check with a doctor or naturopathic doctor about what’s causing your symptoms and how to get that pain off your chest (sorry).

*The information in this article is not intended to replace expert care by a professional. If your symptoms are severe or long-lasting, please seek medical attention.


Shannon Perry

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