About one-third of female participants in the 2012 London Marathon reported breast pain while running, according to a survey conducted at the event. Of the women who had pain, 17 percent said they cut back on mileage or intensity due to discomfort.
The survey was the first to examine breast pain in female runners and the findings will be published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. A group of researchers led by Nicole Brown, Ph.D. polled 1,285 female registrants at the event and discovered that 32 percent of women experienced at least occasional breast pain, also known as mastalgia.
They also found that certain women were more likely to have pain than others:
“The prevalence of mastalgia increased with cup size, ranging from 24% in participants with ≤A cup size breasts to 51% in participants with ≥F cup size breasts,” the study authors wrote. “This is an important finding as it has yet to be established whether breast size is related to mastalgia, owing to the small sample sizes in previous studies. Furthermore, it indicates that the condition is not restricted to only larger-breasted women.”
Furthermore, women who had given birth were less likely to have pain (28 percent) than women who had not (35 percent). There was no significant correlation between age and breast pain.
In general, exercise created more discomfort among the study’s participants when they had mastalgia. For this reason, mastalgia often affected work outs. The pain caused 25 percent of women to miss one or more runs, 20 percent to do shorter runs and 30 percent to cut back on intensity.
Surprisingly, 44 percent of women who suffered from mastalgia did nothing to relieve the discomfort. Those who did tried sports bras (21 percent), pain medication (15 percent) and holding their breasts (14 percent).
Because 91 percent of women said they wore sports bras, Brown believes her study suggests current models don’t meet runners’ needs.
"Many sports bras do offer a range of cup sizes, [but] others have fairly generic sizes, and this may impact on the fit and support the bra offers, which may impact exercise-induced mastalgia," Brown told Runner’s World. “Bra manufacturers need to do more research and work closely with scientists and women to design bras which allow women of all shapes and sizes to lead active and healthy lifestyles."