Boobs. I don't know about you, but I have a love-hate relationship with mine. They can be pretty confusing, from all the weird reasons for breast pain to how the fluctuate in size. However, the thing about boobs — all boobs, no matter what their size — is that they have a lot of volume. Not just in size, but in speaking voice. Sure, they might not actually speak, but they have their way of getting their message across: For instance, if you find yourself wondering why your boobs are sore, you might want to consider the possible things your breasts might be trying to tell you. Listen to them.
Sure, not all boob pain is cause for concern — everything from your period to wearing the wrong bra can make them feel a little sensitive, especially when you have a bigger cup size. But, if that pain is coupled with any noticeable, concerning physical changes in your breasts, or with the presence of a new lump you discover during your monthly breast exam, then you should definitely head to your doctor pronto to get it checked out. Chances are, you'll be fine, but take no risk when it comes to the health of your girls.
Here's a few things your breasts might be trying to tell you if they feel sore.
1. You Need A New Sports Bra
In a 2012 "breast kinetics" study, researchers found that unsupported breasts move up to eight inches in space during running. Therefore, it's no surprise that a 2013 British survey of over 1,300 female marathon runners found that 32 of them experienced "mastalgia," aka "pain in the boob area," which was directly related to both breast size and intensity of exercise. If you experience breast pain after running and you have larger breasts, chances are, your sports bra and physics are to blame for the sore muscles and suspensory ligaments in your breasts.
(Note: if you're confused because your sports bra used to be awesome, take into account how long you've had it: Cosmopolitan's fitting checklist gives sports bras a 6-month expiration date, so they might just be getting old).
Another sign of Bad Sports Bra Syndrome (BSBS, according to me), and one more common in small-boobed ladies, is the super unpleasant sensation of a sore nipple. This can happen when your lady friends are moving around too much within your bra, and can lead to very painful chaffing and even bleeding.
If you're experiencing either of these symptoms, make sure you're wearing the right size sports bra (getting the girls measured is key!) and see if that helps.
2. Your Hormones Are In Flux
If you use boob pain as a period tracker, you're not alone. Breast tenderness (especially in the two weeks before your period right up until you get it) is totally a sign that your body is flooded with estrogen which happens when you're ovulating. However, your boobs might also feel sore and/or heavy when you're pregnant or perimenipausal, so it doesn't always mean you're ovulating.
A slightly less enjoyable symptom caused by hormone changes: "cobblestone" texture. You may notice this a few days before your period, and you can thank progesterone for it. Cobblestone boobs are when you get that weird, lumpy, dense feeling that probably scared you the first few times you noticed it. But don't worry: if the lovely lady lumps are symmetrical, a little bumpiness is totally normal (but keep checking your breasts every month, OK?).
3. You're Sensitive To Your Soap Or Detergent
If you thing that your nipples or breasts in general are itchy or irritated, look to your soap, detergent, or moisturizing routine to see if there are any changes you can make. See, your nipples are to your breasts like eyelids are to the rest of your face: a little more sensitive to changes in your product routine (or to changes in the weather), and a little more in need of moisturizer without any stuff like fragrance.
However, you do experience itchiness or discomfort in your nipple area and have made no changes in your soap, detergent, or moisturizing routine, it is worth a visit to the doctor just to get the girls checked out. There is a more serious condition that can cause itchy nipples and requires immediate medical attention: Paget's disease of the breast. This is a rare form of cancer, and according to the Mayo Clinic, it's most often is seen in women over 50. One of the main symptoms of this cancer is intense itchiness confined to one nipple, crusting or scaliness of the skin on the nipple, or even bloody discharge. It usually appears in tandem with ductal carcinoma in situ (which is underlying breast cancer that stays in the area it begins) or invasive breast cancer elsewhere in the breasts, though it can very rarely appear just on its own.
4. You Might Need To Change One Of Your Medications
Certain drugs, from birth control pills to anti-nausea meds to hyperthyroidism treatments, can produce side effects in the breasts and nipples. If you go to the doctor for persistent boob symptoms, be sure to mention if you're taking these things and possibly save yourself a lot of diagnosis time. The National Breast Cancer Foundation lists the following drugs that can cause or exacerbate pain in the breasts:
- Digitalis preparations,
- Methyldopa (Aldomet)
- Spironolactone (Aldactone)
- Certain diuretics
The Mayo Clinic also notes that certain SSRI antidepressants (serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) are also associated with breast pain, including fluoxetine (Prozac, Prozac Weekly, Sarafem) and sertraline (Zoloft).
5. If You Experience Any Of These Symptoms, Seek Medical Attention
There are a few instances where your boobs might be trying to tell you something life threatening is going on.
- All over "internal"-feeling itchiness (ie. not superficial, skin-deep irritation)
- Nipple discharge or crusting when you're not pregnant or breastfeeding
- Sudden nipple inversion
- Asymmetrical lumps or bumps
- Changes in the texture of the skin on your breasts (especially "pitting")
While these symptoms could be nothing, it's always worth checking them out just to be safe. And, of course, give your breasts a good feel up once a month just for good measure. And then go live your life. Your girls would want it that way.
This article was originally published on June 10, 2015 and was updated on July 2, 2019.
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