Common Breast Problems You May Not Know About

Breast health is a topic that touches so many.  There are many common breast conditions affecting people of differing ages, sizes, and genders.  As a therapist, I have heard the plight of women reporting complaints involving poor fitting bras leading to muscular and skin conditions.  Some say,” I can’t wait to take my bra off” or “I have stopped wearing one altogether”.

Dermatological conditions for one can be a complicating factor of an ill-fitting bra. The band of a bra is the supportive piece that spans the ribcage.  If the band is too small, the compressed skin may break down from reduced circulation, resulting in red areas on the skin that can open and bleed.  Snug without discomfort may be a good rule of thumb. I hope this is helpful in educating you about common breast problems you may not know about.

Good-fitting Bras

A good-fitting sports bra can be a challenge too since there are usually fewer areas to adjust and don’t forget the sweat!  Friction and wet fabric are never a friendly combination.  Endurance athletes and their long hours of training will test the fit and function of any bra to minimize painful, chaffed, or inflamed skin.

Like shoe-wearing guidelines, if a bra leaves a red mark on the skin for 2 minutes or more, the band or strap fit needs to be adjusted, or possibly a larger size is needed.  A good bra fitting may prevent painful ribs, neck, and shoulders (not to mention the immediate desire to run, jump, and dance!)

Properly fitted bras

I had this experience myself, when I was fitted for a bra that was so comfortable, I refused to take it off!  Either the mirror of the fitting room was enchanted or this ‘underwire-less” bra immediately gave me a new comfortable look that I liked so much, I think I stood 2 inches taller and felt so newly enlivened I didn’t need an afternoon tea.  After listening to a local acupuncturist, Jodie Heinrich, and gleefully sporting my new bra, I’m not sure if my liver Qi is flowing better, my axillary lymphatic system is adequately draining, or maybe I just finally recognize myself the way I remember from years past.

I think every woman has a bra story.  These stories typically include:  too tight, too loose, worn out, itchy, pointing, plunging, pinching, and of course the frustration of lost time and money looking for the long-term bra relationship you have always dreamed of.

Gioia Bras and Jodie’s clinical acupuncture and bra fitting expertise is a local resource I was so thrilled to find.

The Homeopathic Approach to Breast Health

Jodie was happy to hear I was writing about breast health.  She reminded me we always treat mind and body together while she put a book in my hands authored by Xiaolan Zhao, C.M.D.  As I read the chapter on breast health, this doctor trained in China explained how unresolved, chronic, or excessive emotions stagnate liver Qi (energy flow).  This can cause the liver to lose the ability to move blood.  Sadly, my two favorite mood enhancers, chocolate, and caffeine are also known to slow Liver Qi.  Breasts are in the energetic pathway of the liver and blockage of liver Qi can manifest in breast conditions.

Dr. Zhao states, “Critical to our health is how we validate, appropriately express and accept our feelings and emotions.”  The Chinese believe feelings manifest as body disorders.  It caused me to reflect on the value of quality communication at work, in the family, and the community.  An effort to elevate appropriate expression of emotion may reduce stress and physical harmony.

The Remedy

The Homeopathic approach also sees physical, emotional, and behavioral symptoms relieved by a single common remedy.  This approach was introduced to me by my MD and is appropriate for babies and new mothers alike.  It is an elegant method to use and does not interact with pharmaceuticals.  In the Physical therapy arena, visceral manipulation recognizes certain personal concerns or emotional focus related to different organ positions and mobility.  The common thread across the world, medicines, and methods is stress.  No matter what brand of care you prefer, there are similarities across a holistic spectrum encouraging management of stress through exercises, a healthy diet, and moderation to achieve benefits of breast health and well-being.

Breast Surgeries

Breast surgeries have become relatively commonplace.  Women and men alike have breast surgeries for various reasons.  Klinefelter’s syndrome is a genetic mutation where a male has an extra copy of the X chromosome, XXY.  Frequency is one to two in every 1000 live births.  Attenuation of various male characteristics may be exhibited.  Gynecomastia is the presence of breast tissue on a male and is present in one-third of affected individuals.  Nearly 10% of KS males may seek out surgery to remove their noticeably enlarged breasts.  Breast implants are used for reconstruction post-mastectomy and augmentation.  A complication of an implant is encapsulation.

Implant encapsulation is a loss of normal implant mobility.  Infections in the capsule can be an initiating cause.  The implant becomes stiff or rigid and can become misshapen.  As encapsulation progresses, the implant will also rise from its previous position.    Symptoms include tightness, pain, and tenderness resulting in difficulty or inability to perform usual tasks and self-care.  Often those with encapsulation will undergo another surgery to resolve symptoms by removing the implant and capsule and placing a new implant.

New Therapies

Fortunately, new therapies have been developed to reduce encapsulations and the associated symptoms.  Recently, it is my pleasure to witness current successful results from a new treatment Freedom offers.  Physical therapy is not just for injuries.  Prevention is a key to improved health.  As I partner with this patient on this maiden voyage of therapy for implant encapsulation, I’m grateful for her courage to seek new care and engaging me professionally with her desired treatment plan.  This care fits her needs and is centrally preventative while it supports her disciplined care.

It is so exhilarating to see safe, conservative, treatment paired with diligent self-care, grooming a pathway of success for a passionate woman with goals to avoid yet another surgery.  This promising case may prove a treatment to turn the tides for Freedom’s future patients to come.  I’m always so amazed at what I can learn from my patients and how working together can accomplish such meaningful goals.  I’ve heard it said, “there is no courage without fear”, so take heart.  This experience reflects the HEALTH care I want to be a part of.

Babies and Breast Health

Breasts can change quickly.  Becoming pregnant, nursing, or simply losing 10 pounds proves this point.  Each woman’s experience is her own while nursing.  This is evident as issues arise.  Women have difficulty nursing their babies for various reasons.  It could be due to an inverted nipple, stress which prevents let down, or an improper latch.  Then before long, engorgement.  This is a very milk-filled, exquisitely tender, hard breast that can resemble the firmness and size of a cantaloupe (silly, yet so true).  This condition can cause a woman to feel desperate and readily accept any advice to relieve this state.

Options vary from hot showers, warm compresses, cabbage leaf-lined bras, electric or manual pumping, manual expression of milk, and more.  There are licensed professionals who can be resources to facilitate a harmonious feeding experience for mother and baby.

Lactation specialists, nurses, and midwives are individuals who can evaluate and advise a mother and child with feeding challenges.  An effective latch is necessary for nursing success.  If complete emptying is not achieved, over time an accumulation of milk can cause mastitis.  This condition can be severe enough to cause a mother to be fatigued, feverish, or listless in bed.  Severe cases can warrant antibiotics and interrupt nursing routines.

Tongue-Tied Babies

In the last decade, increased awareness of babies with tongue-tie has surfaced.  A restriction under the tongue prevents adequate elevation of the middle portion of the tongue, limiting the efficiency of milk extraction and swallow mechanism.

A dysfunctional latch or tongue tie can be a root reason for mastitis.  A mother who has had repeated cases of mastitis or blocked ducts could have an evaluation of her baby’s mouth, latch, and tongue to determine if anatomical impairment exists. There are laser and surgical treatments available to untether the tongue and allow more range of motion.  Generally, oral function improves, though disciplined post-surgical care by the mother is necessary for best outcomes.

Another nursing complication is a common yeast infection called thrush.  The baby can have redness in the mouth with white, velvety sores on the mouth lining and tongue.  These sores can readily bleed if wiped.  Diaper rash, altered mood, and fussiness are common, and the baby may refuse to nurse.  The infection can spread to the mother’s nipple, which can appear deep-pink, cracked, and sore.   Tenderness and pain are common during and after nursing.

Detecting Breast Issues Early

I had the pleasure of listening to a breast cancer pathologist speak years ago.  She validated the potential of a new breast cancer screening tool called thermography.

This is a picture of a patient showing the heat distribution of the body.  She relayed cancer cells require a vast supply of blood flow and stimulate blood vessel development to supply cancer cells with the needed energy for their unusually fast cell reproduction.  Thermography shows heat patterns, which represent blood flow.

Surprisingly, blood flow changes can be detected 10 years before the cancer is detected.  This doctor felt thermography has a future as a cancer prevention tool.  A scan showing increased blood flow could bring a woman to an oncology doctor ten years before her cancer has grown.  If this is the doorway to prevention, it could give a woman years to hone a healthier lifestyle and stop her “would-be” cancer from ever coming into being.  Fibrotic breasts can yield fair results from mammography.  New mammography technologies may sharpen results, though maybe thermography has a real future role in curing cancer before it begins.

Schedule your appointment with Diane Ping, MPT, CMTPT, and Breast Health Specialist today


Diane is a graduate of Winona State University of Minnesota. She graduated in 1995 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Allied Health Sciences. In 2000, Diane graduated from Carroll College of Waukesha, WI with a Masters of Physical Therapy degree.