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Musculoskeletal causes of breast pain

Sometimes breast pain doesn’t come from your breast. 

breast pain

Breast and/or nipple pain during lactation is most commonly related to breastfeeding, for example due to poor attachment, mastitis or nipple infections. 

But pain in breastfeeding mothers, as with anyone, can also be caused by conditions of the bones, muscles, joints and ligaments (musculoskeletal conditions).   

Caring for a new baby often involves physical tasks that you haven't had to do before. These may increase your risk of developing musculoskeletal pain. Perhaps you have poor posture while feeding or you are sitting in the one position for a long time. Muscle imbalances, fatigue or general stresses can make muscles tighten up. 

Musculoskeletal breast pain may be referred from: 

  • your back e.g. due to a bulging disc in the spine pressing on a nerve or a problem with the joints between the bones of the spine. 

  • a trigger point in the large chest muscle lying underneath your breast. Trigger points are sensitive spots in a muscle that can be irritated easily.

  • costochondritis - inflammation of the cartilage holding the upper ribs to the breastbone (sternum). 

A condition called Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS) can also lead to breast pain. It happens when too much pressure is placed on nerves and blood vessels that pass between the muscles in the neck.  

With TOS you may feel: 

  • pain (sharp, burning or aching) in your arm, hand, side of the neck, breast area, upper back and/or armpit.  

  • tingling 

  • weakness in the hand and arm muscles on the affected side 

  • that hand may be colder. 

A physiotherapist or other trained musculoskeletal therapist can help work out whether your breast pain is due to a musculoskeletal condition or not and, if so, what treatment may be appropriate.  

It is important to seek professional advice if you keep feeling pain. There can be other medical causes of breast pain that could require urgent medical attention. 


The information on this website does not replace advice from your healthcare provider.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association February 2023