Arm Pain

By Barbara Hales, M.D.
Categories: ,

doctor and patient with arm pain

The definition of arm pain is where there is pain or discomfort felt anywhere within the arm, including involvement of the shoulder, elbow and wrist.

After a comprehensive history and physical examination, the following tests may be done to help find the cause of the underlying arm pain:

  • X-rays (to rule out fractures)
  • Blood tests (to rule out rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes)
  • Angiogram (to view blood flow if heart block is suspected)
  • Sonograms (to assess ligaments, joints and tendons)
  • MRIs and CAT scans to view soft tissues and bones

What Causes Arm Pain?

 Arm pain can stem from:

  • Bone Fractures
  • Sprains
  • Pinched nerves
  • Tendonitis
  • Rotator Cuff injury
  • Heart Attack/Angina
  • Arthritis

Where Is Arm Pain Common?

 The most common causes of arm pain stem from injury or overuse although it can be seen with a herniated disc, which compresses nerves leading to the arm or heart attacks.

What Should I Expect With Arm Pain?

 Symptoms you can expect with arm pain include:

  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Redness of the arm
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Swollen lymph nodes of the armpit

While the majority of pains in the arm are not serious, you should seek immediate medical attention at an emergency room if you expect the possibility of a fracture or heart attack.

Symptoms of arm pain due to fractures include:

  • Inability to bend the arm, wrist, hands or fingers
  • Severe, sharp pain
  • Visible deformities such as a bone protruding at an angle

 Symptoms of arm pain due to a heart attack (MI/myocardial infarction):

  • Pain running down the left arm, shoulder, back, neck
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Lightheadedness

Treatment Options for Arm Pain

 Treatment protocols for arm pain depend on the cause and degree of the pain. The most common treatments include:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (i.e. corticosteroids) to address the causes and reduce pain and swelling. This comes by mouth, shots and intravenous methods.
  • Painkillers
  • Physical therapy
  • Surgery for repair of bone fractures or torn ligaments

Home Remedies For Arm Pain

 There is a wide range of therapies that you can try for yourself such as icing the areas where there is inflammation to decrease swelling. Ice packs can be applied for 20 minutes on the arm and after a 60-minute interval, reapply the icepack. Elevating the arm will likewise help to decrease swelling

Give yourself some rest and restrict any motions including exercise. Sometimes that is all you need. Nonprescription drugs such as ibuprofen, Tylenol and aspirin can diminish mild pain.

Applying a brace or elastic compression bandage to the problematic area will decrease swelling and hasten healing by keeping the joint from extending too far.

To prevent future arm pain (typically caused by an injury which could have been avoided), try the following:

  • Wear protective gear during sports
  • Stretch regularly especially before strenuous activity
  • Lift objects using knee bends
  • Maintain good physical shape
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