Ouch my breasts hurt!
Are you among the estimated 50-70% of women who experience breast pain[i]? This is a surprisingly common condition, more likely to affect women who are premenopausal or perimenopausal. Described as a heavy dull ache or heavy soreness, or a stabbing, burning pain-- however it feels, it’s really bothersome!
Assessing your breast pain[ii]
Breast pain, also called mastalgia, is rarely caused by cancer[iii], but it may be advisable to consult your Primary Care Provider to rule this out, especially if the discomfort is daily, has been worsening over a period of 1 month or longer, and is in a specific location.
Lumps in the breast can cause discomfort and are usually cysts, but should still be checked out. Recurring cysts (with repeated surgical removals) can be a sign of a hormone imbalance.
If you are breastfeeding and experiencing breast pain, then you may have a plugged duct. You should seek immediate attention from your lactation consultant in order to stop it from quickly developing into mastitis or worse. Other immediate measures can be taken, but that is a topic for a different blog…
If you are sexually active, you probably need to consider the possibility of being pregnant, since breast tenderness can be one of the early signs of pregnancy.
While some women undergo breast augmentation for cosmetic purposes, others have the opposite problem: their breasts are large enough to actually cause pain. This is more likely for those women who are carrying extra weight. (If you have this problem, please call and ask me about metabolic balance®, the personalized nutrition program I am certified to coach that can help you achieve weight loss AND long-term weight management).
If the pain is mostly above the breast and below the collar bone, it might originate in the pectoral muscle, which lies underneath the breast tissue, and is often caused by movements such as raking, shoveling or picking up a baby.
Ask yourself if you experienced any recent trauma to the breast(s) around the time the pain started. This even includes purchasing a new bra!
Finally, breast pain can be a side effect of several prescription medications, especially those containing hormones such as oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy. As well, some antidepressants and cholesterol-lowering drugs can cause changes to the breast. If you think a medication has caused your breast pain, you may want to ask your doctor for alternative medications, or consider non-drug approaches to resolve the problem for which the medication was prescribed.
If none of these apply to you, the most important question to ask yourself is whether the pain is cyclical, that is, it follows the cycle of your period. Cyclical pain is the most common type of breast pain. The typical pattern is pain that worsens toward your period, subsiding after it. Because the pain is cyclical, it’s likely caused by fluctuating sex hormones.
If you are on the birth control pill or taking replacement hormones, your doctor might recommend that you switch prescriptions. Over-the-counter pain medications like Tylenol or ibuprofen may also be suggested. Prescription medications for breast pain are the last resort and include drugs for fibrocystic breast disease and several cancer drugs that can be prescribed off-label for breast pain.
There are several things you can do on your own to help relieve your breast pain.
· Make sure you have a well-fitting bra, ideally without underwire.
· Try to cut back or eliminate all caffeine and alcohol for an entire menstrual cycle and then see how you feel. (You may want to continue this!).
· Consider purchasing homeopathic Arnica cream (make sure the active ingredients include the label “HPUS”) for applying topically to the painful areas. You could also use a castor oil pack (send me an Email and I will send you instructions for making this). However, avoid using heat if you suspect an infection of any kind.
· Ask your massage therapist for a lymphatic massage, or purchase a rebounder (mini-trampoline) to help move lymph. A daily walk can help with this as well.
· If your pain is due to muscle strain, rest, as well as yoga or pilates will help.
· Manage your stress—yes, this affects breast pain! Try incorporating deep breathing exercises once or twice into your daily routine.
Integrative care for breast pain
If you decide to choose an integrative approach that complements conventional medical care, I will conduct a detailed assessment of your symptoms: when they started and what may have been happening around that time. Occasionally breast pain is preceded by trauma, like a stray elbow or bad fall. As well, the nature and location of the pain are important. I will also try to find out as much as possible about who you are as a person. This is because homeopathy is a holistic health care modality.
If the cause of your breast pain is a pectoral muscle strain, you will probably be given a homeopathic remedy that matches the pattern and location of the pain you experience and will also help heal the strained muscle.
Trauma to the breast will likely point to a different homeopathic remedy.
If you have the more typical cyclical breast pain related to hormone fluctuations, I may prescribe a homeopathic remedy that helps target the endocrine system, which regulates hormones. The goal is to help the body balance your hormones so that the pain subsides considerably or goes away completely.
[ii] I am grateful to Karen Allen CCH, for much of the information in this section.