Breast Soreness Before a Period—Why Does It Happen?

Learn what causes it and how you can get some relief.

Dealing with cramps, diarrhea, and other below-the-belt period side effects are bad enough. But your menstrual cycle can be just as bad for your breasts as well. Your breasts can be sore, tender, or heavy around the time of your period—basically, they can feel like heavy boulders sitting on your chest.

Here's what you should know about breast soreness around the time of your period and what you can do about it.

Why Do Breasts Become Sore Before and During Your Period?

"The medical term for premenstrual breast swelling and tenderness is cyclical mastalgia," Kecia Gaither, MD, an ob-gyn, maternal-fetal medicine doctor, and the director of perinatal services at NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, told Health. Like everything else period-related, it's the result of normal hormonal changes.

"Towards the end of a menstrual cycle and during the period, the ratio of the two reproductive hormones, estrogen and progesterone, change," Prudence Hall, MD, founder and medical director of The Hall Center in Santa Monica, California, told Health. "That's when estrogen falls to its lowest levels in the menstrual cycle, while progesterone is still quite high, causing fluid shifts and tenderness in the breasts."

Estrogen actually causes the breast ducts to enlarge, while progesterone makes the milk glands swell—resulting in lumpy, swollen, tender, and/or heavy breasts, added Dr. Gaither. These hormones also promote extra water retention in the breast and abdominal area, which can make your breasts feel bloated and uncomfortable in your bra.

How To Get Relief From Breast Soreness

Take the Right Vitamins and Minerals

There are some vitamins that can help soothe PMS symptoms, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health. Potential options you could use for breast soreness include vitamin B6, vitamin E, and magnesium.

Researchers of a November-December 2015 study published in the Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research explored the efficacy of vitamins E and B6 for breast pain relief. They found that both vitamins were correlated with lower pain scores from the participants over the course of two months.

Further, "[v]itamin E has been implicated in reducing breast pain by effectively assisting in reducing inflammation," Dr. Gaither said. Magnesium helps to "maintain healthy hormone levels, which can decrease breast tenderness, and serotonin levels, which modulate our perception of pain," Dr. Hall explained. It also helps maintain normal fluid balances, which eases breast tenderness as well, Dr. Hall added.

Don't Skip Your Workouts

You may not feel like dragging yourself to the gym when your chest is hurting. But exercise helps with everything in the body, and breast pain is no exception. "It has to do with increasing healthy muscles and reducing fat cells, which produce inflammation," Dr. Hall said, who added that inflammation is a primary cause of pain.

Exercise can increase the production of endorphins, chemicals that are natural painkillers. It also increases blood oxygenation and circulation to your tissues, which can feel invigorating, Dr. Gaither said. "Moderate aerobic exercises are helpful: Think swimming, jogging, or walking about 30 minutes a day," Dr. Gaither added.

Wear Your Sturdiest Sports Bras All Day

A really supportive, non-underwire bra, like sports bras, might actually be your best friend during your period. "Close-fitting sports bras are helpful in keeping the breasts close to the body, which keeps their movement at bay, and thus decreases the pain associated with unrestricted movement," Dr. Gaither said. Even a soft non-underwire bra can help, Dr. Hall explained: "If the breast ligaments are stretched due to increased breast size, a soft bra relieves that strain on the ligaments."

Cut Out Salt and Caffeine

Snacks like potato chips are the things you're probably craving most during your period—but you might want to stay away from them. According to a July 2017 study published in Agri, high salt consumption was related to experiencing breast pain. Salt can increase fluid retention, Dr. Hall said, leaving your breasts feeling heavy.

And many healthcare providers recommend that people experiencing PMS symptoms should cut their caffeine intake as well, as this stimulant appears to intensify the side effects. Instead, try to eat a diet with high concentrations of protein, fiber, and minerals to decrease symptoms, Dr. Gaither said, so your breasts will no longer feel like balloons.

Try a Natural Remedy

Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen can help reduce breast achiness, but if you don't like taking medications, you have other options.

"Dandelion root has also been noted to be a help with breast pain—it's a natural diuretic and contains potassium to assist in ridding extra bodily fluid," Dr. Gaither said. Brew dried dandelion in tea, or take it as an herbal supplement. Don't rely too much on diuretics, though; they can lead to dehydration, which will just cause more discomfort. Another option is primrose oil. This oil "contains gamolenic acid, which has anti-inflammatory properties," Dr. Gaither added. You can take an extract orally or rub it directly onto your breasts. As with any supplement, though, check with your healthcare provider first to make sure it's safe for you.

When To Be Concerned

If you find that your breasts are hurting beyond the time of your period, there could be something more going on. According to the National Library of Medicine (NLM), breast soreness or tenderness can be due to:

  • injuries
  • certain medications (e.g., birth control)
  • surgeries
  • physical changes
  • infections
  • other breast-related issues (e.g., cysts)

It is also possible to experience mastalgia, called extramammary mastalgia, that is coming from another part of the body, per the NLM. For example, people can think they are feeling breast pain but actually feeling pain from their gallbladder.

Your healthcare provider can do an evaluation, which might include a breast ultrasound, biopsy, or mammogram, to rule out any serious conditions if you have concerns about pain or discomfort—period-related or not.

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