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Why Are My Breasts Sore?

Should I Worry?

Like most parts of the body, breasts can be sore from time to time. Not only for girls, but for guys, too. You may be worried about your body’s development, about what causes breast soreness, and even about cancer.

If you’re a girl, you may have noticed a slightly sore feeling when you wash your breasts in the shower. Or maybe you felt an ache when you’ve rolled onto your stomach in bed. Sometimes it may have felt like your breasts gained 10 pounds overnight.

If you’re a guy, you may have noticed some tenderness and even a lump beneath your nipple area.

Whether it’s a dull ache or a sharp pain, soreness in your breasts can be scary. TV shows, magazines, and newspapers are filled with information about breast cancer, so it’s easy to think your pain could make you a statistic, but don’t freak out.

The truth is that breast pain in a teen is rarely cancer. So what is pain from and how can you be sure?

Why Do I Have Breasts Anyway?

All mammals have breasts and humans are no exception. Breasts, which are milk-producing glands, begin to enlarge in females around the onset of puberty. Breasts are made of fat and other tissue that surround and protect nerves, blood vessels, and milk ducts (small tube-like paths).

The main biological reason young women have breasts is to allow them to feed babies. Since long before the invention of the bottle, babies have been nursed (fed milk) straight from their mothers’ nipples. Although some women give their babies formula from bottles, many women still breastfeed their newborns. In fact, doctors recommend breastfeeding as the best way to meet a baby’s nutritional needs.

The timing of breast development varies from girl to girl. Most girls begin getting breasts around 10 or 11, but it’s normal for breast development to start anytime between the ages of 8 and 13. In general, it takes 4 to 5 years for a girl’s breasts to reach their adult size.

When guys start puberty it is common to develop a small amount of breast enlargement too. During puberty, hormones in the body can cause the breasts to grow larger. The difference is for guys, this condition is called gynecomastia and is usually temporary.

What Causes Soreness?

One of the most common times that breasts might feel sore is when they are beginning to develop. First you might notice a small button-like lump beneath the nipple area. The medical name for this is the breast bud, and it is often present in guys and girls. The breast bud may be a little tender and may cause you to worry but it’s a normal part of puberty.

It is also common to have sore breasts around the beginning of a girl’s period, or menstruation. During her menstrual cycle, a girl’s body produces lots of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Changes in these hormones can cause feelings that together are called premenstrual syndrome, or PMS. Some girls have painful cramps in their stomachs, headaches, mood swings, or cravings for certain foods right before their periods begin. During this time the body may retain water, which can make a girl feel puffy and bloated. Rings and shoes may feel tight at this time.

Just as fingers and feet swell, so can breasts. All that fluid forces the breast tissues to expand, which stretches the nerves and makes breasts feel achy or tender.

Breast swelling and tenderness can also be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Be sure to talk to a parent or doctor right away if you might be pregnant.

Also, if you ever notice discharge from one or both breasts, call your doctor right away.

What Can I Do to Relieve the Ache?

Most PMS symptoms, including breast soreness, should disappear as your period begins. Over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, might be helpful. Wearing a supportive bra might also help.

Healthy eating, regular exercise, and getting enough sleep are really your best bets for lessening the ache. You might try cutting down on salty foods and foods that contain caffeine, like coffee, tea, and even chocolate. Try caffeine-free soda or herbal tea instead. Some girls find that eating a diet rich in calcium helps with PMS symptoms.

If you’re tired, take a rest! Snuggle on the couch with your pillow and watch a good movie. Sometimes getting your mind off your aches is the best thing you can do.

What if I’m Still Worried?

Sometimes these tips won’t help you feel better. Maybe the pain is a little sharper this time, or maybe it lasted longer than usual, or maybe you just want to get it checked out. You don’t need to sit at home and worry — visit your doctor.

Let your doctor know about your concerns. The doctor sees patients all the time for things that may seem silly, but if you’re worried, then it’s not dumb. Although you may feel a little embarrassed to ask about breast pain or about a lump, there’s no need to. A breast exam is a quick and painless procedure. Besides, it’s a small price to pay for a doctor’s assurance that your aches are completely normal.

Reviewed by: Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: October 2013