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10 Possible Causes of Arm Pain

Published on 21st April 2020
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10 Possible Causes of Arm Pain
  1. Many Ways the Arm Can Hurt
  2. Possible Causes of Arm Pain
  3. What to Do and When to See a Doctor?
  4. Taking Care of Yourself

Pain in the arm can develop for many different reasons, ranging from a mild muscle strain to a disease like fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis. The pain can take many different forms too, from a dull ache to sharp, sudden pain. There are common causes of arm pain, and learning about them can help you determine when to see a physician.

10 possible causes of arm pain

Many Ways the Arm Can Hurt

There are so many ways pain or discomfort is experienced in the arm. Sometimes, the pain is described as stiffness, mild discomfort or a dull ache, as opposed to a sharp pain in a specific area. The pain can occur anywhere along the arm too, from the shoulder area to fingers.

The symptoms in the arm can vary widely, and include:

  • Pain or discomfort in one or both arms
  • Swelling
  • Bruising
  • Numbness
  • Weakness
  • Stiffness
  • Dull ache
  • Tingling
  • Muscle spasms
  • Burning pain
  • Pain when making certain arm movements
  • Sharp pain
  • Soreness

No two people experience the exact same arm pain in the same way. That makes it challenging at times to determine the cause without seeing a doctor for a diagnosis.

Possible Causes of Arm Pain

Arm pain can indicate a mild strain or a serious injury or disease. Ten possible arm pain causes include, but are not limited to:

  1. Broken bone – bone in arm or wrist is broken; there may be arm weakness and pain; pain normally starts quickly, feels sharp and gets worse with arm movement
  2. Sprain – ligaments connecting bones are stretched or torn; there may be a pain, bruising, swelling and/or limited joint mobility; a sore upper arm is common due to a shoulder sprain
  3. Tendinitis – tendon is inflamed or irritated; pain is often a dull ache that worsens when moving the arm or joint; may be swelling and tenderness
  4. Arthritis – rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disease that can impact joints, blood vessels, heart, and other tissues; pain can occur due to swollen tender joints and joint stiffness; there can be general painful arm inflammation
  5. Heart attack – pain starts due to reduced blood flow to the heart which reduces oxygen flow to the tissues in the arms, shoulder, neck, jaw or back; arm feels heavy, and chest feels pressure; pain in right arm and hand is common, but pain can occur in either arm
  6. Bursitis – fluid-filled sacs called bursae that serve as cushions for bones, muscles, and tendons near joints become inflamed; symptoms include joint pain which can be a sharp or shooting pain; may hurt more when moving the joint
  7. Cervical disk herniation – spinal disc in the neck experiences a tear or splits open, and some of the soft gel-like centers oozes out; if disc presses on a nerve root, there may be tingling, numbness or pain that goes down the arm
  8. Carpal tunnel syndrome – pressure is placed on the median nerve in the wrist/hand; tingling and numbness, or a feeling like an electric shock, may travel up the arm from the wrist
  9. Brachial plexus injury – brachial plexus is a network of nerves that send signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm and hand; nerves in the brachial plexus are compressed, stretched or torn; depending on the injury, there may be a shooting burning sensation down the arm, arm weakness, an inability to move the arm and/or severe pain
  10. Fibromyalgia – widespread musculoskeletal pain that can be a constant dull ache or stronger pain feelings

These are just some of the more common causes of arm pain. There are many more, including muscle strain, dislocated elbow, rotator cuff injury, nerve entrapment, and even cancer. Pain in top of the arm could be due to rotator cuff tendinitis or tear.

10 possible causes of arm pain 1

What to Do and When to See a Doctor?

When your arm hurts, the next steps depend a lot on how fast the pain develops and the presence of other symptoms. For example, during a heart attack, one or both arms will suddenly hurt due to the reduced flow of blood into the muscles.

During a heart attack, there are other symptoms accompanying the arm pain too. They include chest pain, nausea, shortness of breath and pressure in the chest. In this situation, call 911 immediately.

If the arm pain starts right after an injury, there are likely other symptoms that rapidly appear. If a bone was broken, it may protrude or lead to an obvious deformity. A broken bone can lead to arm pain, weakness, bruising and swelling. It is important to see a physician right away to ensure the bone is set and heals properly.

In some cases, it is more difficult to identify the source of arm pain when it is radiating pain (occurring due to a medical condition not in the arm) or a disease impacting tissues. If arm pain persists for more than a two weeks for no apparent reason, or the pain is interfering with your daily activities or work, see a doctor for evaluation.

Taking Care of Yourself

Fortunately, many cases of arm pain are due to mild injuries to muscles, ligaments or tendons from overuse or overexertion. Unless it is a heart attack or broken bone, most people end up treating themselves for a period of time.

Many conditions causing arm pain, like overuse or tendinitis, can be treated by resting the arm, placing ice packs on the sore area, applying compression or elevating the arm to reduce swelling.

The important point to keep in mind is that persistent pain in arm that does not subside with self-treatment needs to be evaluated by a physician. It is better to get a doctor’s diagnosis than to take the chance of making a medical condition worse through lack of proper treatment.
Pain specialist at SAPNA Dr. Majid Ghauri has superior training in identifying causes of shoulder and arm pain and performs pain treatments to comfort patients’ lives.

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