Is premenstrual breast tenderness and pain normal?

Premenstrual breast tenderness and pain are not normal physical symptoms for women. Most women do not understand these abnormal symptoms and pay no attention to it, assuming that it’s normal.

Some women even think it is just a sign of early pregnancy. These symptoms may also be diagnosed by your GP as fibroadenosis or fibrocystic breast disease. In particular, severe breast tenderness and pain before menstruation can be an indication of internal organ disorder in Chinese Medicine. If we can pay attention at the earliest stages of these symptoms, we can avoid further development of other diseases.

1. Relationship between Breast Tenderness & the Liver & Stomach

Women’s breasts are one of the organs of the reproduction system. Chinese Medicine considers that the circulation of the breasts are strongly associated with the Liver function and Channel. In addition, the Stomach Channel passes directly through the nipples. Therefore disorders in these areas are usually associated with these two organs and their channels.

2. Symptoms of Premenstrual Breast Tenderness & Pain

These symptoms usually occur between 3 and 10 days before the period.  Sometimes the pain is quite severe and rapidly reduces once the period starts.  The symptoms usually recur in this way with each cycle.  In the clinic, during my infertility treatment, I realise that some of the fertility problems are due to an inability of the ovary to effectively release the egg (indicated stagnation of the ovaries).  These cases can also have breast tenderness or pain 2 to 3 days before ovulation.

I want to mention for clarity, in cases of pregnancy, mild breast tenderness or fullness is normal to occur 2 to 3 weeks after your next period would normally be due.

3. Common Causes of Premenstrual Breast Tenderness & Pain

i) Liver stagnation (Qi & Blood)

Due to my clinic experience, I realise many women have symptoms relating to this issue.  There are many causes of dysfunction in the Liver.  When the Liver does not function properly, it can cause stagnation of the flow of Qi and Blood which can collect in the breast area resulting in pre-menstrual breast tenderness and pain.

In these cases, the body may also experience the following symptoms: bloating, fullness around the abdominal area, PMS, period pain, insomnia, constipation or sluggish bowel movements, cysts or fibroids in the breasts.

If the blockage of the Liver Channel is not resolved, blockages may start to occur in other parts of the body where the Liver Channel flows, such as lower abdomen, sides of the abdomen, hypochondriac area, top of the head, neck and shoulders.  Continual build-up of these blockages may, over time, also cause other common women’s diseases, such as infertility, endometriosis, period pain, polycystic ovaries, uterine fibroids, as well as headaches, stiff neck, irritable bowel syndrome, thyroid disorder and depression.

ii) Heat in Stomach or Stomach Channel

Sometimes pre-menstrual breast symptoms is more to do with the nipple, which may become very painful with a burning sensation.  This is more associated with Heat from the Stomach or the Stomach Channel becoming stuck around the nipple area.  In these cases, the body may also experience the following symptoms: very emotional or anxious, constipation, red face, hot body, easily perspires or shorter menstrual cycle (ie 21 days).

The Heat collects in the Stomach or its Channel is a buildup from eating too much hot and spicy food, deep-fried food, high intake of alcohol, or Heat transforming from other organs such as the Liver and Gall Bladder.

iii) Other Causes 

In addition to the common causes mentioned above, some of the symptoms may also be associated with the following issues: old or new injury around the chest or back, certain foods or medications, or may occur in early stages of pregnancy (it is worth mentioned, in my past 100 or so successful treatments, there are only 3 cases which had breast fullness and pain within 2 to 3 days before their period was due). If you are trying to conceive, please take special note of breast related symptoms.

4. Suggestions for Breast Tenderness & Pain

i) If you have experienced premenstrual breast tenderness, fullness or pain for 2 or 3 months, I suggest you have a medical check with your GP.

ii) I further recommend you seek the advice of your Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner to find out the cause of your symptoms through traditional diagnosis method of pulse, tongue, signs and symptoms. Once we have the cause, we can provide an individualised treatment which will see the symptoms quickly resolved.

iii) Lifestyle and diet therapy for this issue

Traditional chinese medicine believes that Liver & Stomach disorders need to be helped by western medicine, chinese herbs and acupuncture, but there are things you can do with your lifestyle and certain foods to help your Liver & Stomach recover. Here are my suggestions of what you can do when you have a Liver & Stomach disorder:

a) Rebalance your lifestyle, including work commitments and stress. If you have personal emotional issues which you feel you cannot solve yourself you should consider seeking some counseling or psychological therapy to help you.

b) Suitable exercise is important. I suggest if you have a Liver disorder that it is best to avoid strenuous heavy and fast exercise. Suitable exercise includes walking at a moderate pace for thirty minutes, swimming, yoga, tai chi, bicycle riding at a moderate pace and dancing with soft gentle music. If possible it is best to perform the exercise mentioned outdoors in nature, as the colour green helps the Liver also.

c) Music therapy: More often listening to soft music in the background or with meditation helps the Liver.

d) Diet therapy: Chinese medicine diet therapy considers that the following foods help the Liver & the Stomach Heat: celery, carrots, coriander, green tea, chrysanthemum tea, peppermint tea, oranges, bananas, lemons, egg-plant, mung beans, watermelon, and more. Avoid over-eating hot & spicy food, which will cause Stomach Heat. If you would like to know more details about this area please check my diet therapy articles.

Most Liver disorders and Stomach Heat can be helped, especially at the earlier stage, with correct and regular treatment. I hope this article can help you find out the cause and stop your body progressing with uncomfortable symptoms, giving you a happier, healthier way of life.

5. Precautions if you have Breast Lumps

You should see your GP if you notice any changes to your breasts such as:

  • a lump or area of thickened tissue in either breast
  • discharge from either of your nipples (which may be streaked with blood)
  • a lump or swelling in either of your armpits
  • a change in the size or shape of one or both of your breasts
  • dimpling on the skin of your breasts
  • a rash on or around your nipple
  • a change in your nipple’s appearance, for example, if it becomes sunken into your breast
  • pain in either of your breasts or armpits that is not related to your period
  • Source: Breast lump – NHS Choices

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One Response to Is premenstrual breast tenderness and pain normal?

  1. usha verma 24 April, 2013 at 3:07 pm #

    i am very thankful for providing such alertness & knowledge about breast pain, as i am also suffering from more than a one month and after periods r over i still have a light pain ….so i think now i must consult a doctor……thanks a lot

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