painful breasts surfing
Girls in the barrel. Click on the photo for the video, it’s worth having a look at.

It seems that having breasts isn’t always as great as some guys imagine! Painful breasts & Nipples is something that plagues a surprising number of women after surfing.

It’s actually not that uncommon for women (and some men) to suffer from breast and nipple pain after surfing. It’s so common in fact that medical professionals are used to seeing women in their clinics.

Mr Iain Brown is an internationally recognised specialist Oncoplastic Breast Surgeon as well as a keen surfer. Being based in Cornwall in the UK he is familiar with the problems women encounter with their breasts from surfing, so much so that he is beginning to describe a condition called ‘Surfer’s Nipple’. “Some women can suffer so much with breast and nipple pain that it keeps them out of the water and significantly affects their enjoyment of surfing”. “Surfer’s nipple is very similar to the commonly known condition of ‘Jogger’s Nipple’.

Pain that keeps women out of the water? What is it that causes breasts to be such a handful?



What Causes Breast Pain in Surfers?

breast pain

There are more to breasts than you may think. The causes of breast pain are shown above & can be considered to be caused by pain from the breast/chest area or pain from the nipple.

Generalised breast pain from surfing can be either from;

  1. The breast glandular tissue itself or
  2. The chest wall and muscles that lie underneath the breast tissue.

Breast Tissue Origin

Breast tissue pain after surfing is generally due to trauma and bruising of  the delicate glandular tissue within the breast. This tissue is very sensitive to the hormones progesterone and oestrogen. Breast tissue becomes larger and more sensitive due to fluctuations in these hormone levels at certain times. Some women find that they are unable to surf comfortably just prior to their normal monthly menstruation. This discomfort may in fact be so severe that it keeps them out of the surf. Pregnancy is another cause of increased hormones and can also cause tender breast tissue.

The repetitive trauma of the board against the chest area even just when paddling out and resting can cause problems. You only need to look at the wetsuit below to see the trauma that can be experienced in the chest area.

painful breasts
Wetsuit Rub

“There’s no doubt that women benefit from additional breast support whilst surfing, whether that be a supportive bikini, sports bra under their wetsuit, or even a more supportive neoprene rash vest. Standard rash vests provide minimal support and the degree of support provided by a neoprene rash vest depends on the fit & thickness of the neoprene. Care must be taken to make sure the breasts are supported rather crushed” explains Iain Brown.  If these measures don’t help and the breast pain is effecting their surfing then they can consider dietary changes that have been shown to reduce breast sensitivity (reduced salt, chocolate, caffeine saturted fats) and take dietary supplements such as Evening Primrose Oil”. It’s obviously wise to speak to your doctor before you start drastically changing your diet or taking pills, especially if you have any pre-existing conditions or illnesses.

Chest Wall and Muscles

A significant number of women that seek medical advice for their breast pain are actually suffering from chest wall and/or muscle pain. Breasts sit on a complicated network of muscuature which is intrinsically involved in the biomechanics of surfing. Specifically paddling, duck diving and even strains from carrying large boards.

“ The Pec complex, the latissimus dorsi insertions (back muscle), serratus anterior (side of the chest wall)  and costrochondral (breast plate) junctions are all prone to strain and persistant inflammation” reports Mr Iain Brown. Its surprisingly common. I recommend that women suffering from musculo-skeletal breast pain re-consider their technique of paddling and diving and  may benefit from resting up for a week and applying gels such as Ibubrofen to the affected areas twice a day after bathing”.

Remember, It can often be as simple as adjusting how you carry your board and starting to do regular exercises that improve your core strength.


Nipple Pain

‘Surfer’s nipple’ is a common condition that is also suffered by some men. It is caused by repetitive rubbing & abrasions to the nipples by clothing or wax, and leads to soreness, irritation and in some cases bleeding. Out of the water the nipples can become dry and appear cracked. These cracks can develop into deeper fissures or splitting into the nipple tissue that can bleed and be prone to infection.

‘Surfer’s nipple’ as it will now be refered to is a common condition that is also suffered by some men. It is caused by repetitive rubbing & abrasions to the nipples by clothing or wax, and leads to soreness, irritation and in some cases bleeding. Out of the water the nipples can become dry and appear cracked. These cracks can develop into deeper fissures or splitting into the nipple tissue that can bleed and be prone to infection.

Tips to avoid surfers nipple (Nip Tips?) are as follows;

  • Avoid loose fitting material.
  • Apply a water proof emollient such as Vaseline.
  • Consider applying water proof plasters (carefully!) to the nipples.
  • If the nipples become inflammed and the skin is broken apply antispetic cream. It is probably best to avoid the water whilst the skin is broken.
  • Avoid sun burn.
What A Pain.


As with all things medical it’s very dificult to 100% rule  serious things out without checking with your doc. So if your worried and symptoms persist then take the plunge and go seek medical advice. Common sense and consideration of activities that casue the pain usually leads to the diagnosis, however it is important to be aware that breasts can develop other problems.

It is widely accepted that all women should perform regular routine breast self-examination and get used to knowing whats normal for them (Just like men should do with their balls!!) Breasts do feel  different at certain phases of the month and may be quite a lot more lumpy or sensitive in the run up to a period.  Changing your contraception (pill , implant, injection, coil) can also alter things. Regular self examination should be timed roughly to be a week or so after your period ends“.

There are lots of instructional videos available online such as the one below showing how to examine yourself effectively.

There are a number of Apps now availiable to help women to remember to examine their breasts and make it more of a usual routine. One of these is the iBreastCheck app for the iphone.




Most importantly please don’t worry if you have breast symptoms. Although it may be a  cause of stress and anxiety, (and must be taken seriously) reassuringly there is no medical evidence whatsoever that trauma to the breast can predispose or cause a cancer to develop.

GetSwellSoon would like to thank Mr Iain Brown for providing the impetus for this article, uncovering a so far under-reported yet important  problem in surfers and for his input in the writing of the Article.  Mr Brown is held in high regard internationally for his surgical skills in cancer , reconstructive and cosmetic breast surgery. He teaches breast and plastic surgeons in training and is committed to the science and art of all surgery for the breast

You can check out his website  which is an  informative and reassuring  site that provides upto date information on the current treatment and management of  breast disease for women in Cornwall and beyond


Authors: Mr Iain Brown & Dr Dave Baglow

Due to the exposure this article has generated on surfers nipple a sister website has been created.

‘Surfers Nipple’ is now an official medical term!
Published in Surfer Girl issue 40, UK surf magazine.


There is no substitution for being examined and treated by a medical professional. The intention of the articles on this website is to inform anyone who reads it of medical issues encountered on surf trips.

This website is designed to provide general practical information not specific medical advice.

A large proportion of the photos on this site are not our own. We have tried to reference all that aren’t ours in good faith. Please contact us if you feel any of your pictures could be referenced better.