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Breast Pain Years After Breast Reduction

by Lyndon Langley
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Breast Pain Years After Breast Reduction

Breast Pain Years After Breast Reduction

The idea for having breasts surgically reduced was probably one that came in late adolescence, when you’re just starting to feel self-conscious about your chest size and wanting to fit into smaller clothes. A few years later, you may have become pregnant, but it’s not an easy pregnancy because of your large size and heavy weight gain (which made breastfeeding difficult). Or maybe you’ve been working on a career path that requires lots of physical contact with clients or customers, which involves bending over, squatting or lifting. In any case, you decide enough is enough, and you’re ready to get rid of those “extra” pounds and start living a healthier life. You’re also excited that you’ll be able to wear tighter tops without feeling self-conscious. Then, before your scheduled reduction mammoplasty, you wake up with horrible pain in your left breast — so much so that you can’t even move! The pain radiates down your arm into your shoulder and upper back, making it hard to sleep, breathe, eat, or do anything else. It feels like pins and needles running through your entire body. What could cause this?
In many cases, the culprit behind phantom breast pain is damage done during surgery to the nerves around the nipple area. During a mastectomy, the surgeon usually severs these nerves to prevent them from continuing to send signals to the brain indicating fullness. This cuts off the signal between the breast tissue and the brain, causing the absence of sensations in the breast itself. When the doctor performs reduction mammoplasty, he or she removes extra skin and fat, which also cut off some nerves. These nerves connect the chest muscles to the nipples themselves, and removing this part of the network means there’s no longer communication between the chest and the nipples. If there isn’t any sensation in the breast, the body will interpret this as being empty, thus creating pain.

Although this type of pain is painful, it’s not dangerous. However, if the problem continues after surgery, or if the pain becomes intense or persistent, it needs to be evaluated by a medical professional who understands how the nervous system works. Some patients find that taking certain prescription medications helps reduce the discomfort; others use over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin or ibuprofen. Doctors may prescribe antidepressants or anti-epileptic drugs to ease the pain. The good news is that the majority of people recover from phantom breast pain within three months, although some women experience chronic phantom breast pain lasting several years.
If you think you might suffer from phantom breast pain, don’t wait until you feel pain to see your physician. Nerve pain often develops gradually, and the earlier it’s diagnosed and treated, the better chances you have of preventing it from becoming more severe. For example, if you take daily medication for depression, you should discuss whether the drug affects the nerves that control your bladder and bowels. Patients who undergo radiation treatment should consult their doctors about potential side effects, including nausea, mouth sores, fatigue and dry eyes.
To help you learn more about reducing the pain associated with phantom breast pain, continue reading.
About 10 percent of women will develop chronic phantom breast pain following breast cancer surgery [Source: American Cancer Society]. Phantom breast pain has also been reported following benign conditions like fibrocystic disease of the breast, infection or trauma, particularly in people who undergo surgeries involving removal of the pectoralis muscle. Women who have undergone radical mastectomies, where all the lymph nodes under the armpit are removed, tend to experience the greatest risk of developing chronic phantom breast pain.
Symptoms of Phantom Breasts Pain
Treatment Options for Phantom Breasts Pain
How to Prevent Phantom Breast Pain

1. Symptoms of Phantom Breasts Pain
One of the biggest indicators that someone suffers from phantom breast pain is the presence of sharp pains shooting up toward the neck. Other symptoms include:
Sharp stabbing pains that radiate outward along the sides of the torso
Sudden onset of pain, especially when moving
Intense feelings of pressure or tightness in the affected region
2. Treatment Options for Phantom Breasts Pain
Because the exact causes of phantom breast pain aren’t known, there are limited options available for treating it. Most commonly, doctors prescribe antidepressants or other medications to manage the pain. Antidepressants work by affecting chemicals called neurotransmitters, which regulate mood and pain perception. They may also affect hormones that contribute to pain sensitivity. There are several different classes of antidepressant, each of which acts differently, including tricyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, serotonin reuptake inhibitors and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Although they differ in specific mechanisms, all antidepressants relieve pain by altering the way the nervous system processes pain signals.
Other treatments include lifestyle changes, such as stopping smoking, decreasing alcohol consumption and losing excess bodyweight. People who smoke cigarettes are particularly susceptible to experiencing phantom breast pain, since nicotine constricts blood vessels and impairs circulation. Smoking cessation can help alleviate this form of phantom breast pain. Similarly, drinking too much alcohol puts additional stress on the heart, resulting in impaired circulation. Weight loss reduces the amount of fatty tissues surrounding the chest, helping to increase the distance between the ribs and thereby increasing the space between the breast and the chest wall.
3. How to Prevent Phantom Breast Pain
You can avoid phantom breast pain altogether by doing everything possible to keep yourself healthy before and after breast surgery. Before undergoing breast reduction, make sure that you know what foods to eat and drinks to avoid. Avoiding alcohol prior to surgery is important, as well as getting plenty of rest and staying away from strenuous activity. Keep your fingers crossed that you won’t need to endure the postoperative recovery period, which can last weeks or months depending on the procedure performed. And remember, breast reduction doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy sex anymore — you may still want to spice things up!
For more information on phantom breast pain and related topics, see the next page.
As mentioned previously, the main reason why women experience phantom breast pain after breast surgery is due to damage to the nerves around the nipple area. One way to reduce the possibility of this occurring is to administer local anesthesia instead of general anesthesia during surgery. Local anesthesia numbs only the parts of the body involved in the operation, leaving the rest of the patient’s body intact. General anesthesia causes unconsciousness throughout the body, whereas local anesthesia can block out sensations in only the areas receiving anesthesia. Another option is to perform a minimally invasive technique rather than a traditional open incision, which makes less room for injury to the nerves.
4. Breast Reduction Surgery: Types
There are two common techniques used today for performing breast reductions. Both involve cutting the skin and soft tissue underneath the breast, as well as the glandular portion of the breast. Surgeons typically choose between two methods based upon the extent of the reduction needed: subcutaneous mastopexy, which is intended for minor reductions, and subglandular mastopexy, which is reserved for larger ones.
Subcutaneous Mastopexy: With this method, the chest skin and underlying tissue is dissected free from the chest muscle to create a new pocket beneath the breast skin. This allows for easier access to the breast tissue, and the breast is lifted up and pulled forward slightly, freeing it from its original position. Next, the chest is closed using horizontal mattress stitches, while vertical mattress stitches are placed across the bottom of the wound to provide support. Finally, the breast is repositioned and secured back into its new place.
Subglandular Mastopexy: Subglandular mastopexy is performed by cutting below the lower edge of the breast gland. Since the skin is kept intact, this method gives the best chance of avoiding scarring, and it leaves the nipple in its natural position. This technique has long been considered safer than other forms of breast reduction, though it does carry the same risks as any surgical procedure.
5. Breast Reduction Recovery
Recovery times vary greatly depending on the type of procedure performed. Generally, you’ll spend anywhere from a few days to a couple of weeks recovering at home. Your plastic surgeon will give you detailed instructions about what you can expect once discharged. He or she will likely ask you to follow up with him or her periodically, usually weekly, to monitor your progress and adjust accordingly. Although most women report mild soreness and swelling, bruising and numbness occur frequently as well. Be aware that these signs are perfectly normal and temporary, and shouldn’t deter you from returning home.
While recovering at home, try not to overextend yourself physically. Don’t engage in activities that require standing or exertion for extended periods of time, as these can aggravate your pain. Also, remember that you’re healing from surgery, not exercising, so don’t go overboard trying to lose weight either. Take care of yourself and stay hydrated. Try sleeping as much as possible, and if you have trouble falling asleep, you can always count sheep.
6. Side Effects of Postrecovery Care
Most women return to work and resume normal routines right after surgery. Unfortunately, this can put added strain on your overall health, since you now have two jobs —

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