One common breast symptom that is often NOT cancer related is pain (only 7-10% of breast cancers have breast pain as a presenting symptom). But breast pain is a problem for many women. In a study published in 2014, over 50% of the 1659 subjects had breast pain and some for over half their life.
The causes of breast pain include hormone fluctuations due to menstruation, some birth control pills and infertility treatments, some medications, low thyroid function, poor fitting bra, breast cysts, large breasts, lack of fitness, inactivity and excessive stress. Breast swelling and pain can be seen with some shoulder and neck problems. This has to do with muscle tension that compresses vessels and subtly limits fluid return leading to the secondary problem of breast pain and swelling. It is important to have a doctor help you sort out the cause of the symptoms.
How to address breast pain
Once you have had your symptoms medically evaluated and you have been cleared of pathological conditions like cancer, then ask for a referral to a women’s health physical therapist (PT). You may find surprising, is that a PT can help you to ease breast pain, but many of the causes of breast pain are best addressed by physical therapy. Physical therapy that helps breast pain includes the following:
Myofascial release (MFR) – This is a generic term for a form of manual therapy. The type of MFR I am referring to here works with your body by providing a gentle stretch to the connective tissue that surrounds and supports all the structures in your body including the breasts, neck rib cage and shoulders. By providing a low load, long duration stretch the tissues gain better mobility and can relieve pain.
Manual lymphatic drainage (MLD)—This method is another form of manual therapy. MLD is a light technique that takes many hours to learn. If a therapist is well trained they can be very effective in reducing swelling that contributes to pain.
Instruction in self care – A PT can help you learn how to change your symptom using self treatment methods, behavior modifications and education on the role of posture, bra fitting, diet, inflammation and stress management. They will teach you how to modify these components to reduce pain.
Exercise – Many women who are experiencing breast pain are also unfit and/or generally inactive. There are usually reasons why lack of fitness develops and a physical therapist can help you work through the barriers to find a consistent and enjoyable program that can help relieve pain.
So don’t put up with breast pain. Check with your doctor and then come see a women’s health physical therapist! Physical therapy will help you sort through the various contributing factors and come up with a plan of action to put you on a path of feeling better!