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What Causes Sharp Pain in Breast and How to Treat It?

What Causes Sharp Pain in Breast and How to Treat It?
Shweta Chaubey

Some common causes of breast pain   |  What can help with sharp pain in the breast   |  When is pain in the breast serious

Pain in the breast is quite common, so much so that around 70% of women have experienced pain or burning sensation in the breast at some point or other in their life.

Many times, the pain is not serious and goes away on its own. In contrast to popular belief, pain in the breast alone is not even a typical sign of breast cancer. It is only concerning when other symptoms accompany the pain.

Most women feel unbearable pain in the breasts a week or two before getting their period. 

Casual pain in the breast is not uncommon and more or fewer results from hormonal fluctuations. If you are experiencing sharp pain in breast that comes and goes for a prolonged period, consult your doctor immediately and nip the cause at the earliest.  

Some common causes of sharp pain in breast

Often, breast pain is caused due to hormonal changes but may also arise due to an infection, noncancerous blockages or tissue growths, and injuries to the chest or breast. Some very common reasons for sharp shooting pain in breast include the following:  

1. Menstrual cycle

Many menstruators experience tenderness and sharp pain in breast that comes and goes due to hormonal changes postmenstrual cycle. 

This stabbing pain in breast is called cyclic breast pain, developing around a week or so before and going away after the period. This pain can cause - 

  • Heaviness in both breasts 
  • Discomfort or lumpiness in the breast
  • Nipple pain 
  • Tenderness and tightness in the breast 

Wearing well-fitting bras provides comfortable support, which can relieve breast pain. 

2. Bacterial infection 

Bacterial infections in the breast are usually caused by a common bacteria called Staphylococcus aureus, found on the skin or the nose. The bacteria may enter the skin via a crack in the skin, usually on the nipple.

The breast's fatty tissue is most infected in this type of infection, and the swelling pushes on the milk ducts, making breasts pain, swelling, and lumps. Common symptoms of bacterial infection (mastitis) include -  

  • Tenderness 
  • Sudden and intense pain 
  • Warmth or redness 
  • Swelling and itching 
  • Abscesses 
  • Fever and nipple discharge 

Mastitis is treated using antibiotics and a warm cloth on the breast. When there is an unhealing abscess, a doctor may have to drain it, which should not be done at home on one's own. 

3. Breast cysts  

Breast cysts are oval or round tissue growths filled with liquid. 25% of breast masses are benign cysts and are moveable under the skin. However, for a large, painful, or uncomfortable cyst, a doctor may have to drain it using a fine needle.  

While diagnosing a breast cyst, a doctor may require a test using the cells or fluids from within the cyst to see if the cyst has irregular or scalloped edges or shows signs of debris or solid areas to rule out the chances of breast cancer. 

4. Gestation and motherhood 

Pregnancy changes a lot in the breasts, spikes certain hormones, and increases blood flow and fluid levels, causing pain, swelling, and tenderness in the breast.

Additionally, many women complain about cramping while breastfeeding. This may happen due to milk building up in the milk ducts, causing them to get clogged, resulting in slower milk flow and painful lump formation.  

Using a breast pump and other maternity products, wearing a maternity bra, nursing bra, or sports bra helps alleviate pain post-pregnancy. 

5. Fibroadenomas  

Smooth, noncancerous lumps that are easily moveable under the skin and are usually painless are known as fibroadenomas and may hurt before their period.  

Most of the time, fibroadenomas do not need any treatment. However, painful and complex lumps might pose a threat and require surgery to be done. 

6. Referred pain 

Interestingly, breast pain is not the actual pain site and may occur due to excessive pain in another part of the body, which is called referred pain. A compressed nerve in the body may cause some sensation in the breast. This pain may radiate from-   

  • Neck and shoulder blades  
  • Lungs  
  • Upper arms  
  • Armpits  
  • Upper spine  
  • Throat or esophagus  

It is always advised to consult a doctor to identify the actual reason behind the pain in breast tissue and treat it effectively. 

7. Other common causes of breast pain

Apart from the aforementioned reasons, sharp shooting pain in the breast often may result from a -   

  • Chest injury  
  • Breast surgery 
  • Poorly fitted bras 
  • Large breasts (that may cause strain in the neck and back) 
  • Medicines 

Poorly fitted bras can also cause imbalanced posture, which can further strain the breasts and back and cause upper and lower back pain.

Moreover, a lot of older women may experience breast pain after menopause onset. Some medicines can have grave side effects, too, which can lead to excessive pain in the breast.

Many women with heavy breasts suffer from the problems of stabbing breast pain because of the excess pressure put on their neck, shoulder, and chest.

Proper exercise, a healthy diet, and effective support or compression bras can help one curb stabbing pain in breast. 

What can help with stabbing pain in breast?

What may help you to curb stabbing pain in breast depends on whether the pain experienced is cyclic or non-cyclic. Cyclic pain refers to the pain that comes and goes at certain intervals. It can subside when treated but eventually surface again after a while. Whereas the non-cyclic pain is caused due to surgery or trauma and may go away after taking the right treatment.

Characteristic Cyclic Breast Pain Noncyclic Breast Pain
Timing Typically occurs before, during, or after your menstrual cycle Can occur at any time
Symptoms Dullness, Heaviness, tenderness, prickling or stabbing pain Breast lumps, burning, tightness, sharp or localized pain
Location Primarily affects both breasts May be localized to a specific area in one or both breasts
Duration Goes away when the period begins or ends May be persistent and not related to the menstrual cycle, lasting for an extended period

HPFY offers a wide range of temperature therapy and pain relief products to relieve cyclic breast pain. These help in curbing the pain for a short while; however, the pain may come back, and you may have to seek medical help. 

1. Temperature therapy for sharp pain in breast that comes and goes

Heat and cold packs are effectively used for pain relief. While heat relaxes the sore muscles and calms the pinching feeling in the breast, the ice helps relieve the inflammation and improve blood flow to the area. 

  • Battle Creek moist heat pack is considered effective in treating breast pain that comes and goes. It conforms to the body contours, reducing the air spaces between the pack and the breast to provide efficient heat to the body tissues. Battle Creek hot pad offers intense, moist heat without adding water and relieves pain and stiffness for hours.

If the breast pain is caused due to breastfeeding, consider using a cold compress after the nursing session.

  • Sammons Preston Durable Cold Packs provide cooling pain relief for up to as long as thirty minutes when frozen. The standard-size cold therapy pack helps in relieving swelling in various parts of the body. It can deliver cold therapy for as long as up to 30 minutes.

Similarly, women who have recently undergone breast surgery may experience non-cyclic tingling and stinging pain in the breast, armpit, and chest wall. Many women also complain about having shoulder or scar pain.

Compression bras can be an ideal method for curbing the pain if it has been two or more weeks since you had the surgery. 

2. Compression bras for noncyclic pain

Compression bra offers medical-grade compression to increase blood circulation and reduce the risk of lymphedema. It evenly distributes compression around the back and provides support so that the wearer can move easily after mastectomy or reconstructive surgery.

  • Amoena Sina Seamless bra is widely used for post-surgical recovery. It offers medium pressure and has flexible, seamless cups to ensure optimal stability. It feels soft and gentle on the skin and offers exceptional comfort.
  • Amoena Leyla Seamless Surgical Bra is a specialized bra designed to provide comfort and support for individuals experiencing sharp pain in the breast area, such as after surgery or during the healing process. This bra offers unique features that contribute to pain relief and enhanced recovery
  • Ill-fitted bras can also potentially lead to breast pain. If the bra is too tight or has an underwire, it can dig into the skin and damage the breast tissues. Hence, when choosing a mastectomy bra, you must check the bra size guide first. 

When is shooting pain in breast serious? 

As mentioned earlier, sharp shooting pain in breast alone is not serious; however, when some other symptoms accompany the breast pain, it is time to consult a doctor. These symptoms may be -  

  • Prolonged and not going away pain in the breast. 
  • Chest pressure. 
  • Trouble breathing, with or without chest discomfort. 
  • Discomfort or pain in the jaw, neck, one or both arms, stomach, or back. 
  • Painful contraction or fullness in the center of the chest. 
  • Lightheadedness, nausea, or cold sweat. 
  • Unconsciousness. 


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HPFY Shweta Chaubey

Shweta Chaubey

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Shweta Chaubey, has been a Health Products For You contributor since 2021. An advocate-turned-writer, her desire to create meaningful and positive content has brought her to HPFY and what better than writing ...

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