Arm pain may seem extremely innocuous, but can occur secondarily as a result of many other problems. While in many instances arm pain occurs in the upper arm region, it can affect any part along the length of the arms, making it difficult to effectively use them, or compromising your safety.
Many people experience transient bouts of arm pain at some point through the lives, but if yours persists for an extended amount of time, it is important that you visit your physician to diagnose the underlying cause.
Causes of Arm Pain
There are several causes of arm pain, depending on the particular area affected, and many other factors which may contribute to its development in your case. Some common causes of the pain include:
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Even though this primarily affects the wrists, it is not uncommon for the pain to radiate along the length of the arms, causing referred pain. Management of the underlying condition usually improves the pain experienced, though flare-ups are quite a common accompaniment.
Whether it be osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, joints of the shoulder, elbow and wrists may all be affected, resulting in pain upon movement. Arthritis results in wearing down of the protective cartilage covering bone heads around joints, which lead to subsequent bone upon bone contact, and generation of pain.
Upper arm pain, especially on the left side is common in persons suffering from angina, or experiencing a heart attack, though the two are not synonymously associated. The arm pain that results from angina (chest pain as a result of insufficient oxygen supply) can usually be rectified via the use of vasodilator supplements which improve blood flow.
Rotator Cuff Injuries
The rotator cuff consists of specialized ligaments within the shoulders that enable its wide range of motion. Injury to these ligaments cause inflammation, and severe pain when attempting to move the shoulder. Rotator cuff impingement is a common cause of this pain, resulting from placing your shoulders in uncomfortable positions, and is extremely common in bodybuilders who perform excessive overhead pressing movements.
Compression of nerves within the shoulder area or wrists is extremely common, leading to referred pain along the entire length of the arms. Nerve compression that develop suddenly may be due to the formation of ganglionic cysts on the wrist, or an injury that has not been properly healed, placing the nerve in an uncomfortable position.
Tendinitis is extremely common amongst tennis players, who sometimes develop an injury known as tennis elbow. Inflammation of the tendons and elbow cause pain to radiate both up and down the arms, and may require a period of immobilization of the elbow to rectify.
Muscle strains from attempting to lift heavy objects are common especially at the location of the biceps, whereas sprains are more likely to occur at the wrists, in an effort to probably save you the body during a fall. Both of these conditions tend to result in arm pain, either diverse or localized at the site of injury.
Symptoms of Arm Pain
The symptoms of arm pain aren’t as limited as you might imagine, since pain itself can develop secondarily to damage that occurs to skin, bone and joints, soft tissue, nerves or even blood vessels. The pain that is experienced is more likely to be one symptom of a disorder that occurs along with several other symptoms.
As such, it is important to also observe other symptoms that occur along with arm pain, to assist your doctor with coming to a diagnosis. Other common accompaniments include:
Nerve Tingling Or Numbness
Nerve tingling or numbness may indicate a condition affecting blood vessels, or damage to nerves themselves. Pre-existing conditions such as diabetes also increase the likelihood of feeling tingling of the nerves or transient numbness.
Your grip can feel compromised even if the origin of your pain is not at the wrist. It is very common for pain that originates at any of the major joints of the arm; the elbow, wrist or shoulder to still cause generalized feeling of weakness in the arms, and inability to strongly grip an item. Be careful if this occurs with numbness, or you may inadvertently cause more damage by underestimating the weight of an object.
Swollen Lymph Nodes
These are most visible under the arms, and usually indicate a bacterial infection, or worst-case scenario cancer. If you observe swollen lymph nodes it is important for you to consult your physician immediately.
Impaired Range Of Motion
The location of the joint where your experience impaired mobility can offer a good indicator of the underlying condition. For instance, if it pains immensely when you try to move your shoulders, and you are unable to freely do so, your physician may investigate for rotator cuff damage.
In like manner, if you are unable to flex their wrists carpal tunnel syndrome may be a probable cause, as is the presence of ganglionic cysts which compress nerves around the wrists.
Swelling is a strong indicator of an inflammatory process, usually accompanied by tenderness and pain at the site. Swelling that occurs at the joint is most likely indicative of arthritis or tendinitis, whereas if it occurs along the lower or upper arm muscles and not joints, it may indicate muscle tears.
Treatment of Arm Pain
Arm pain does not always rectify on its own, depending on the underlying cause. For instance, arm pain that occurs as a result of angina will not go away, and is only likely to become more severe as coronary blockages are worsened.
In contrast, pain that results from overuse or as a result of sprains or strains often rectify on their own, with minimal intervention on your part.
Effective treatment modalities for arm pain include:
Regardless of the cause of your arm pain, rest is seen as a universal healing tool. Taking it easy allows you relief from pain, and can often reduce associated inflammation. Injuries mandate rest, as unwarranted activity will only worsen your prognosis.
Application of ice
Ice is useful for short-term relief of acute inflammation and decreases nerve perception of pain. It should not be used for long-term arm pain management.
You can take advantage of over-the-counter pain relief medication for acute management of arm pain, though if you’re pain regularly recurs pain medication should not be your preferred method of treatment. If your arm pain is not relieved following the consumption of pain medication, or application of topical forms, consult your physician to rule out or determine if your pain is originating from your heart or otherwise.
Sometimes, use of a compression dressing along with a sling or cast to immobilize a joint can help with pain reduction brought on by movement. You should not compress on your own, however, at the risk of impairing blood flow.
Rarely, arm pain may result secondarily to infection at the site of various tissues within the arm.
Surgery may be necessary to treat arm pain due to nerve compression, structural deformities, or severe muscle tears to name a few.
Arm Pain – Summary
When arm pain occurs most of the times it is likely to be chronic in nature until the underlying cause is determined and addressed. If your pain persists or progressively gets worse, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention, especially if the discomfort starts to affect your quality of life.