1. What is chest wall pain?
Chest wall pain may feel like it’s coming from the breast, but really it comes from somewhere else. It’s also known as extra-mammary (meaning outside the breast) pain.
Chest wall pain can have several causes, including:
- Pulling a muscle in your chest
- Inflammation around the ribs, caused by conditions called costochondritis or Tietze's syndrome
- A medical condition, such as angina or gallstones
2. Symptoms of chest wall pain
The pain can be on 1 side, in a specific area or around a wide area of the breast.
It may be burning or sharp, may spread down the arm and can be worse when you move.
You can feel this type of pain if pressure is applied to the area on the chest wall.
3. Diagnosing chest wall pain
What happens at a breast clinic appointment?
See your GP if your chest wall pain is new and carries on.
Your GP will examine your breasts or chest and ask you about the type of pain you have and how often you get it.
To check how long the pain lasts for, how severe the pain is or if the pain may be linked to your periods, your GP may ask you to fill in a simple pain chart.
If your GP thinks you may have chest wall pain, they may ask you to lean forward during the examination. This is to help them work out if the pain is inside your breast or in the chest wall.
Your GP may refer you to a breast clinic, where you’ll be seen by specialist doctors or nurses for a more detailed assessment.
4. Treating chest wall pain
Treatment for chest wall pain will depend on what’s causing it.
If your pain is caused by a pulled muscle in your chest, it’s likely to improve over time and can be treated with pain relief.
Inflammation of parts of the ribs
Chest wall pain can also affect the area under the arm and towards the front of the chest, and this may be due to:
- Costochondritis – inflammation of parts of the ribs (called costal cartilages)
- Tietze syndrome – inflammation and swelling of the costal cartilages
When they examine you, your GP or specialist may be able to tell that the costal cartilages are painful.
You may find it helpful to rest and avoid sudden movements that increase the pain. Pain relief like paracetamol or ibuprofen (as a cream, gel or tablet) may help.
Your specialist may suggest injecting the painful area with a local anaesthetic and a steroid.
Smoking can make the inflammation worse, so you may find that your pain improves if you cut down or stop altogether.
Other medical conditions
Pain caused by other medical conditions, such as angina (tightness across the chest) or gallstones, may be felt in the breast.
Your GP or specialist will advise you on the most appropriate treatment.
5. Coping with chest wall pain
Having any type of breast or chest wall pain can be upsetting.
If you’d like more information or support, you can call our free helpline on 0808 800 6000 to speak to one of our specialist nurses.
On its own, breast pain is rarely a sign of breast cancer. But it’s still important to be breast aware and go back to your GP if the pain increases or changes, you notice any other changes in your breasts, or you need support.