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21-04-2013 | Gynaecology | Article

Exercise-related breast pain affects third of female runners


Free abstract

medwireNews: Research suggests that around a third of women who run regularly experience breast pain or mastalgia as a result.

Nicola Brown (St Mary's University College, London, UK) and colleagues found that the risk for mastalgia went up with increasing breast size and was not necessarily alleviated by wearing a suitable sports bra.

"The link between exercise and mastalgia has yet to be established; however, this study identified that exercise was the most prevalent factor in mastalgia occurrence which may have implications for its management," write the authors in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.

"The number of participants who took no measures to relieve their mastalgia, or resorted to pain medication, highlights the importance and significance of research into exercise-related mastalgia," they add.

The researchers surveyed 1397 women participating in the 2012 London Marathon about their experience of mastalgia. Overall, 32% of the women surveyed experienced the condition and it was linearly related to breast size increasing from 24% in women with a size A cup or lower to 51% in women with size F cups or greater. Age was not related to mastalgia, but body mass index was significantly lower in women who did not experience the condition.

Of the women surveyed, 46% had given birth to at least one child. Mastalgia was significantly more common in women with no children than those with children, at 35% versus 28%. In addition, around 52% reported that the pain they experienced was related to their menstrual cycle.

Regarding severity of pain, over half (52%) of the women who experienced mastalgia described it as "discomforting," with 8% describing it as "distressing, horrible, or excruciating." Around three-quarters (74%) said that their mastalgia caused them at least some level of distress.

Exercise intensity was significantly related to mastalgia, with 64% of women experiencing the condition during vigorous physical activity as opposed to 54% during moderate physical activity.

Pain relief and firm breast support were the most commonly used methods to overcome mastalgia, but 44% of women who experienced mastalgia did nothing to counter it. The results also suggest that sports bra use is not always helpful, as 91% of all the women surveyed reported always wearing a sports bra when exercising.

Despite the fact that the population surveyed were all experienced runners, "over a quarter of female marathon runners experiencing mastalgia in the present study reduced the intensity of their exercise and a fifth had missed an exercise session as a result of mastalgia."

The team concludes: "The results highlight the need for the advancement of appropriate and effective treatment methods of mastalgia and may aid the development of educational initiatives for women and health practitioners to effectively manage mastalgia symptoms."

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2013

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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