Upper arm pain is usually described as any pain, discomfort, or ache that occurs on your upper arm (your shoulders down to your elbow). There are numerous reasons why a person can experience this condition. The most common cause of arm pain is injury or trauma, including joint dislocations, bone fractures, muscle sprains, and strains.
In other cases, you might also experience pain in your upper arm due to compressed nerves in that area or diseases that can affect the arm, including arthritis or peripheral vascular disease.
The good news is – Upper arm pain is usually not something to worry about. It might be a simple case of muscle overuse. However, in rare instances, unexplained pain in your upper arm could signal a life-threatening condition, such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) and angina pectoris that may spread and cause pain in the arm.
The treatment for your arm will depend on the underlying cause. If your arm pain results from muscle overuse, resting and limited use for a few days may soothe the pain. If your arm pain is a result of a heart attack, you may require more specific treatment. As you read on, you’ll discover the possible causes of your upper arm pain, the symptoms, and how to treat it.
Symptoms that accompany upper arm pain
Arm pain can occur due to a variety of reasons. The symptoms of your arm pain will depend on the cause. The pain in your arm may be sharp, sudden, and fade away over time, or it may be persistent and radiate to other areas of your body.
The usual symptoms that occur with arm pain include:
- Arm redness
- Swollen lymph glands under the arm
- Redness or bruising
- Limited range of motion
If your upper arm pain is a symptom of a heart attack, you may notice other symptoms, including:
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
Common Causes of Upper arm pain
Your upper arm could arise as a result of various reasons. The possible causes include:
1. Pinched nerves
A pinched nerve is a nerve that has been compressed by a muscle, tendon, tissue, cartilage, or bone. When you have a pinched nerve in your arm, it can cause intense pain.
Other symptoms may include:
- Sharp pain
- Muscle weakness
Sprains are one of the most common causes of upper arm pain. This condition occur when your ligaments or tendons stretch and tear. While mild sprains will resolve on their own, most severe strains require surgery.
Other symptoms of strains in your upper arm include bruising, swelling, limited joint mobility, and an unstable joint.
When your tendon becomes inflamed, you have tendonitis. Tendonitis accompanies mild to severe pain and usually occurs in the shoulders (upper arm), elbows, and wrists. Other symptoms include tenderness, mild swelling, and dull, aching pain.
4. Rotator cuff injury
Rotator Cuff Injury is a common injury that can cause upper arm pain. They are common in people who lift heavy objects over their heads. For example, baseball players, painters are common victims of rotator cuff injury. Another cause of RCI is falling on a straight arm or direct trauma to the rotator cuff.
Other Symptoms of rotator cuff injury include a dull pain in the shoulder and weakness in the arm.
Usually, resting your arm and limiting shoulder movement can aid recovery. Your doctor may also recommend treatments such as anti-inflammatory medications, cortisone injections into the rotator cuff, and surgery to repair RCT.
5. Broken bones
If your arm bone breaks or fractures, you may experience immense pain in the arm. Other symptoms include:
- Severe pain
- An inability to rotate your palm
- A visible protrusion or deformity
6. Autoimmune diseases
Some autoimmune diseases weaken your body’s immune system and cause pain in the arms, elbows, hands, wrists, and neck. For example, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjogren’s syndrome are autoimmune diseases that accompany pain in the upper arm.
7. Rheumatoid arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disorder characterized by inflammation of joints. Common symptoms include:
- Swelling of the joints
- Warm, tender joints
- Stiffness in the joints
Angina is a telltale sign of heart problems that causes chest pain. This condition arises when the heart is not getting sufficient oxygen. A common symptom of angina is a pain in the arm, shoulder, chest, neck, and back.
Other symptoms of angina include:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
9. Heart attack
A heart attack occurs when there’s a blockage that affects blood flow to the heart. When blood does not get to the heart, your heart cannot get enough oxygen.
Lack of oxygen in your heart can cause the death of heart tissue. Other symptoms of a heart attack include:
- Pain in one or both arms
- Shortness of breath
- Pain elsewhere in your upper body
- A cold sweat
- Fullness, indigestion, or a choking feeling (it may feel like heartburn)
- Chest pain
If you experience symptoms of a heart attack, make sure you visit your doctor immediately.
10. Swimmer’s shoulder
Swimmer’s shoulder refers to a variety of shoulder injuries that can occur as a result of swimming. Swimmers are more likely to experience upper arm pain due to the high number of swim stroke repetitions they perform during training.
Swimmer’s shoulder injuries include the following:
impingement syndrome: When a person lifts their arm, a tendon in their shoulder rubs and catches on surrounding tissues, resulting in
A labral injury: This is a tear in the labrum, a piece of cartilage that sits inside the shoulder socket.
Shoulder instability: This occurs when the shoulder joint structures fail to keep the upper arm bone in the shoulder socket.
Peripheral neuropathy is caused by damage to one of the peripheral nerves, resulting in numbness or weakness.
Appropriate treatment of the swimmer’s shoulder can aid in recovery. Depending on the severity of the injury, a sports doctor will recommend a variety of treatments.
- Rest, ice, and compression may be used, as well as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
- Injections of cortisol into the shoulder surgery
- Disuse syndrome
When you don’t use your muscles for an extended period, you can experience pain from muscle atrophy. Disuse syndrome is a condition that arises from a lack of physical activity.
It is common in bedridden people. Symptoms of disuse syndrome include:
- Muscle stiffness, muscle shrinkage, and wasting
- Muscles that are weak and susceptible to injury
Top tip: The importance of exercise cannot be overemphasized. The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend that adults perform at 3 hours a week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity.
Some people, however, have chronic conditions that limit their mobility or level of physical activity. People suffering from these conditions should consult a physical therapist. They will collaborate with the individual to develop an appropriate exercise program.
11. Brachial neuritis
Brachial neuritis is a kind of peripheral neuropathy that affects the shoulders, hands, chest, and arms.
Peripheral neuropathy is a nerve illness that affects the nerves that transmit information from the central nervous system to the rest of the body. The condition is characterized by nerve discomfort and loss of function in affected bodily regions.
Brachial neuritis typically causes discomfort and weakness in the shoulder and arm on one side of the body.
Most people experience pain on the outside of their shoulder and upper arm. The pain usually appears suddenly and worsens at night.
The pain may go away after a few days without treatment.
Other symptoms of brachial neuritis include:
- Loss of sensation
- Changes in reflexes
Infections are one of the most common causes of brachial neuritis. Bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections are all possible causes: Some infections that can cause brachial neuritis include:
- Parvovirus B19
- Coxsackie B virus
- Variola major and minor
Treatment and Medication Options for Upper Arm Pain
Usually, over-the-counter treatments and proper rest can effectively resolve upper arm pain.
If you have arm pain from overuse of a muscle, make sure you avoid overexertion and repetitive movements that can worsen the pain. I recommend you take frequent breaks from activities that stress your arms.
You can also place ice packs on the affected area to reduce swelling and pain. You can try this for 15 to 20 minutes, 3 times a day.
Your doctor may also recommend using a compression bandage to reduce swelling. If you’re at home, you can try elevating your arm above heart level to help reduce inflammation.
Your doctor may recommend certain medications to help you soothe your Upper arm pain.
Your doctor may prescribe shots of corticosteroids to reduce inflammation in your arm.
When to See a Doctor
If your upper arm pain is caused by severe trauma or it comes rapidly, you need to seek emergency treatment.
If you have trouble moving your arm or feel protruding or dislocated bones, make sure you visit your doctor immediately.
When pain in the arm, back, and shoulder is often accompanied by chest pain, it can signal signs of a heart attack. Make sure you seek emergency treatment immediately.
Top tip: Do not drive yourself to the hospital if you notice signs of a heart attack. You should call 911 and carefully explain your situation.
Other signs you should look for before seeing your doctor include:
- Sudden injury
- Severe pain and swelling
- Pain that occurs when you move and is relieved by rest (this may mean decreased blood flow to your heart)
- Difficulty moving or rotating your arm.
Usually, upper arm pain will subside after a few days. However, if you are experiencing persistent pain in your arm that lasts for several days, you need to visit your doctor.
How to prevent Upper Arm Pain
Pain in your arm, shoulder, or wrist can make life difficult. You may not be able to carry out your normal activities. If the pain is left untreated, it can lead to other severe complications
that requires surgery or other extensive treatment. To reduce the risk of severe damage, it’s crucial you know how to prevent arm pain.
Avoid repetitive movements: If your job requires repetitive movements like throwing a baseball, typing, or operating a cash register, make sure you reduce the force of exertion or find exercises that can correct the unnatural movement.
Relax your grip: Gripping too hard can trigger upper arm pain. You can relax the grasp on your pen, handle, or anything else.
Take breaks: You must take plenty of breaks if you want to prevent upper arm pain and severe injury. You can use the time to stretch and bend your hands and wrists.
Watch your form and posture: Working in the proper posture can prevent pain. Make sure you don’t bend your arms too far in either direction.
Mix up your exercise: Repeating an activity like swimming over and over can cause pain in the upper arm. To prevent this, you can try various exercises to avoid upper arm injury.
Stretch before exercise: Stretching before and after workouts will make you less likely to have an upper arm injury. You can build your range of motion once your muscles are warmed up.
Several conditions can trigger upper arm pain. Most often, it’s a result of injury or overuse. But many other medical conditions can cause your arm to hurt. If you experience persistent arm pain, make sure you visit your doctor immediately.