Surfer's Nipple

It seems that painful breasts and nipples are 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 getting used to seeing women in their clinics.

Based in Cornwall and also a keen surfer, internationally recognised Specialist Oncoplastic Breast and Cosmetic Surgeon
Iain Brown
is so familiar with the problems that women encounter with their breasts from surfing, he officially described the condition ‘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”
Iain Brown - Consultant Oncoplastic Breast and Cosmetic Surgeon

What Causes Breast Pain In Surfers?

There are more to breasts than you may think.

The causes of breast pain are shown below and can be considered to be caused either by pain from the breast/chest area or pain from the nipple.

Breast Pain

Generalised breast pain from surfing can be either from:

  • The breast glandular tissue itself


  • The chest wall and muscles that lie underneath the breast tissue

"make sure the breasts are supported rather than crushed"

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 when paddling out and resting can cause problems.

“There is 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 and thickness of the neoprene. Care must be taken to make sure the breasts are supported rather than 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, saturated fats) and take dietary supplements such as Evening Primrose Oil."

Make sure you 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 musculature 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 and 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 Surfer's Nipple

Nipple Tips

  • Avoid loose fitting material

  • Apply a water proof emollient such as Vaseline

  • Consider applying water proof plasters 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

Other Breast Issues

How Can I Be Sure That My Breast Pain Is ONLY Caused By Surfing?

As with all things medical, it is very difficult to rule serious things out without checking with your doctor. So if your worried and symptoms persist then seek medical advice. Common sense and consideration of activities that cause 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

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.


A Reassuring Note

A Final Note From
Mr Iain Brown ...

"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. "

Surfer's Nipple
caused by repetitive rubbing and abrasions to the nipples by clothing or wax
and leads to soreness, irritation and in some cases bleeding.

Our Medical Experts

We would like to thank our medical experts Dr. Dave Baglow and Consultant Oncoplastic Breast and Cosmetic Surgeon Mr Iain Brown for their contribution in writing this article and for sharing their extensive professional opinions and most importantly for offically naming the condition SURFER'S NIPPLE

Please Check Out Their Websites

Get Swell Soon | Dave Baglow

Dr Dave Baglow

Medical Information for Surfers by Doctors.
Keeping you healthy in the Surf
Cornwall Breast Surgeon | Iain Brown

Mr Iain Brown

Dedicated To The Breast Health of Cornwall and Beyond