Breast Pain & Soreness in Menopause: Causes & Relief

Last updated 01.16.2024 | by Dr. Karen Pike | 9 Minutes Read

This article has been reviewed and fact checked by Dr. Karen Pike, a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. Read more at our medical disclaimer page.


Almost three-quarters of women will experience some type of breast tenderness during their lifetime. Breast pain, also known as mastalgia, is a common complaint for women of all ages, but during menopause, it can become more frequent. 

There are many different reasons behind breast tenderness and soreness. Most are harmless and caused by hormonal shifts. But in some cases, it can be a sign of an underlying condition. So, it’s essential to identify the cause of breast pain when it arises. 

Like most women, I’ve experienced breast pain myself throughout my menopausal journey. And through my research, I’ve found several effective treatment options and interventions to ease the discomfort. 

So, have you noticed meanopause-related breast pain, and are you looking to find relief? This post is for you. 

Below, I’ll explain what leads to breast pain and soreness during and after menopause, and share some of the best treatment options available.

What Causes Breast Pain?

In most cases, breast pain is linked to hormonal changes. 

Many of us first experience breast pain during puberty. It can continue to be a regular occurrence throughout our fertile years, during menstrual cycles and pregnancy. 

Perimenopause brings more dramatic hormone fluctuations. As a result, breast tenderness and soreness can increase. In some cases, it can continue after menopause too.

What Are the Different Types of Breast Pain?

There are two main categories of breast pain; cyclical and non-cyclical.

Cyclical Breast Pain

Cyclical breast pain is hormonal. It is related to your menstrual cycle. Therefore, it usually only affects pre-menopausal and perimenopausal women. Around three-quarters of all breast pain is reported to be cyclical.

During the build-up to menopause (12 months after the date of your final period), cyclical breast pain is common. For most people, the symptoms are relatively mild, and they generally begin a few days before your period. But for some women, the pain and breast discomfort is more severe and can last for longer into your cycle.

What Causes Cyclical Breast Pain?

Cyclical breast pain is caused by fluctuations in the reproductive hormones estrogen and progesterone. These hormones stimulate the breast tissue and trigger the ducts and milk glands to swell. This can lead to tenderness that lasts several days.

Cyclical breast pain is usually alleviated after menopause when these reproductive hormones no longer trigger stimulation to the tissue. However, women using certain hormone therapies may still experience symptoms.

What Are the Symptoms of Cyclical Breast Pain?

The symptoms of cyclical breast pain can vary.

Cyclical breast pain usually affects one or both breasts at the same time. It is often accompanied by swelling. In most cases, this type of breast pain feels like a dull ache.

However, cyclical breast pain during perimenopause may feel different from the cyclical pain you’ve experienced in the past. It can present as a soreness, burning, sharp, shooting, or throbbing sensation.

Non-Cyclical Breast Pain

Non-cyclical breast pain is unrelated to the menstrual cycle.

It is more common in women over the age of 40, and it usually occurs during perimenopause or after menopause. However, it can affect women of all ages.

What Causes Non-Cyclical Breast Pain?

This type of breast pain isn’t brought on by hormonal shifts.

Breast pain without accompanying abnormalities, such as a lump or tumor, is often undetermined. However, there are a variety of potential causes, including:

  • Infection

An infection in the breast tissue is known as mastitis. It is most commonly found in breastfeeding women. However, it can occur at any time. The most common cause of mastitis is a chafing or superficial injury to the skin around the nipple. If the skin is damaged, bacteria can enter, causing infection. Symptoms of mastitis include redness, swelling, soreness, and an elevated temperature.

  • Cysts in the breast tissue

Cysts are small sacs of fluid that form within the tissue. They are relatively common, especially in perimenopausal and menopausal women. Cysts in the breast tissue are usually benign. However, they can be painful and become enlarged and inflamed if knocked or bumped.

  • Trauma or injury to the breast tissue

Trauma to the breast can be sustained in several ways, including the use of a breast pump, bumping into something hard, a blow to the breast while playing sports, surgery, or a breast biopsy.

Any kind of breast trauma or injury can cause pain and swelling and, in some cases, could lead to infection (mastitis).

  • A side effect of specific medications

Certain medications are well known for causing breast pain. These include antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).

  • Conditions unrelated to the breast

Pectoral muscle strain and conditions that cause inflammation in the chest wall can sometimes cause pain that feels as if it’s radiating from the breast tissue.

  • Breast cancer

In most breast cancer cases, pain is unlikely to occur without the presence of an obvious lump. However, if you notice any of the following secondary symptoms, then it can be early signs of breast cancer. Visit your doctor for an assessment, as the risk of breast cancer is a serious issue and needs immediate treatment.

  • A lump or mass in the breast tissue
  • Redness of the breast
  • An increase in the size of the breast
  • Discharge from one or both nipples
  • A rash on the breast
  • Changes to the skin over the breasts, e.g., dimpling, scaling, or peeling

What Are the Symptoms of Non-Cyclical Breast Pain?

The symptoms of non-cyclical breast pain depend on the underlying cause of the problem. 

The pain may be constant or intermittent, and it can happen at any time. In many cases, only one breast is affected. The pain can be localized in one spot or spread across the whole breast. It may feel like a dull ache or a tight burning sensation.

How to Find Relief From Breast Pain and Soreness in Menopause

The right treatment plan will depend on the underlying cause of breast pain.

Treating Cyclical Breast Pain

If your symptoms are mild and only last for a few days during your menstrual cycle, you may not require treatment. However, if the pain is more severe, several interventions can help.

  • Over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories

These over-the-counter drugs can reduce soreness on the days you feel the most pain. I was able to treat my own cyclical breast pain with a low dose of ibuprofen. This was usually enough to ease the majority of my discomfort before the pain naturally tapered off. However, if your breast pain is more severe, your doctor may suggest a stronger, prescription-only alternative.

  • Topical non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

These rub-on medications, such as ibuprofen gel, can provide more localized pain relief.

  • A supportive bra

Those with larger breasts may benefit from wearing a supportive, comfortable, and well-fitting bra 24 hours a day during the most painful days of their cycle.

  • Hormone blocking medications

Certain hormone-blocking medications may ease cyclical breast pain. However, they come with a long list of side effects. So, doctors usually prescribe this form of treatment to women experiencing breast pain so severe that it affects their quality of life.

Treating Non-Cyclical Breast Pain

Breast pain that is not due to hormonal shifts has a wide variety of causes and treatment options.

Over-the-counter and prescription painkillers can provide temporary relief for most types of non-cyclical breast pain. However, they shouldn’t be used on a long-term basis.

If the breast is swollen or inflamed, applying a cold compress or ice pack can also help.

An infection of the breast (mastitis) will usually be treated with a course of antibiotics. If an abscess has formed, this will need to be drained. Likewise, if a benign cyst is the cause of breast pain, your healthcare provider may recommend a draining procedure. This is generally painless and can sometimes be carried out in your doctor’s office.

If you are suffering from non-cyclical breast pain, the best course of action is to speak with your doctor. They can assess your symptoms and provide an accurate diagnosis. Then, you can access the right treatment for yourself.

FAQs

Q. Should I wear a bra if I have breast pain and soreness?

Whether or not to wear a bra depends on your personal preference.
Personally, when my breast pain was at its worst, I found that wearing a comfortable and supportive bra 24 hours a day helped ease the throbbing pain. However, it doesn’t matter how high quality the bra is; if it doesn’t fit properly, it is likely to cause you more pain, not less.
If you’re looking for a bra that may help with breast pain due to menopause, go the extra mile and book a professional fitting. This will ensure that whatever you buy helps, not hinders, your symptoms.

Q. At what stage in menopause does breast pain and soreness occur?

Breast pain and soreness can happen at any time during a woman’s life, but it’s much more likely to occur during perimenopause. In the months and years leading up to menopause, hormonal shifts make breast tenderness much more prevalent.

Q. How long does menopause-related breast pain and soreness last?

Breast pain is extremely common during perimenopause. But thankfully, once you pass menopause and your hormones have stabilized, the pain usually goes away on its own.
Breast pain that lasts long after menopause is over is likely to be non-cyclical and caused by something other than hormones. If you’re concerned about breast pain lasting longer than expected, speak to your doctor before the situation worsens.

Conclusion

Breast pain is a common complaint among women of all ages, especially those in a perimenopausal phase.

Most cases of breast pain are due to hormonal fluctuations. When a woman reaches menopause, these fluctuations stop, and thankfully, the associated pain also stops.

However, breast pain in perimenopause, menopause, and post-menopause has a wide variety of potential causes. So, if you’re concerned about soreness and discomfort, visit your doctor.

References:

Author

  • Dr. Karen Pike

    Dr. Pike is a senior physician administrator and board-certified emergency room doctor actively working in northern California. She received her undergraduate degree at Dartmouth College, where she graduated Phi Beta Kappa and played collegiate soccer. She attended Georgetown University for medical school and performed her residency in emergency medicine at Stanford University. She was part of the first-ever, women-majority emergency medicine program in United States. Dr. Pike is also the primary medical consultant for “Grey’s Anatomy,” a role she has held since the pilot episode when she partnered with Shonda Rhimes as the show’s original medical consultant. At her hospital, she was the second woman Chief of Staff. Today serves as the Director of the Emergency Department. Whether in leadership or direct patient care, her dedication to excellence in communication, quality, and collaboration is unwavering.