Arms are probably one of the most actively used body parts in human anatomy. Even slight arm discomfort, specifically upper arm pain, can turn our daily chores into complete torture. Most people think of arm pain as a normal consequence of a hard day's work. While in some cases that may be true, more often than not arm pain progresses into a more serious diagnosis when neglected.
According to medical experts, pain in the upper arm is usually located between the shoulder and the elbow. Arthritis must be the first thing that pops into your mind the moment you hear about this type of pain, but there are more causes that can lead to this discomfort.
From a simple fracture to more serious diseases like heart attack, upper arm pain may indicate something more serious. Upper arm pain might seem insignificant, but it can be the first sign of gall bladder abnormalities and serious cardiovascular disorders.
Complications of Upper Arm Pain
Arm pain alone is too subtle to get a clear diagnosis. However, there are other signs and symptoms accompanying upper arm pain that can be used to predict the actual cause of the pain. Some of these are the following:
- Immobility or difficulty in moving the shoulder or arm - When muscles or joints of the upper arm are affected, a simple movement can be a lot more taxing because of the pain involved.
- Redness and warmth of the skin - This is commonly found in cases of dislocation, injury or fracture. Redness and warmth of the skin are usually manifestations of the inflammatory process currently at work.
- Bleeding and swelling - These symptoms are more common when a serious fracture or injury affecting the upper arm takes place.
- Paresthesia - Parethesia is usually defined as a weird sensation ranging from burning to tingling. Paresthesia is often experienced when nerve endings or groups of nerves are damaged along with muscles or bones.
- Difficulty of breathing, chest/jaw pain, nausea, light-headedness, sweating - These are the usual signs and symptoms signaling that an impending and serious heart attack is about to take place. Getting adequate rest is usually recommended as part of the first aid management for conscious victims, but because a major organ is affected, giving prompt medical attention is the top priority.
Causes of Upper Arm Pain
Pain in the upper arms must be taken seriously regardless of cause because any stable condition can lead to a more serious one if it is not addressed early. Here are five of the most common culprits that can cause pain in the upper arm:
- Trauma - When a fracture-inducing injury takes place, trauma in the upper arm usually comes next. Along with a broken or dislocated bone, pain and bleeding make seeking medical attention a top priority.
- Brachial Plexus Injury - When accidental pressure either from contact sports or a minor injury directly affects the brachial plexus, temporary disability accompanied by pain usually occurs. Brachial plexus is the network of nerves that connects the shoulder to the spinal cord so injury to this eventually leads to signs and symptoms resembling paralysis. Some of the other known manifestations are "electric shock" sensation, pain, and inability to move the affected arm.
- Tendinitis - When excessive use of the connective tissue connecting the muscles to the bones leads to an injury, upper arm pain and swelling usually ensue. Corticosteroids are the most common pharmacologic treatment prescribed by doctors to treat this condition.
- Strained Muscles - Overstretching and lifting heavy objects can be physically demanding so arm pain usually follows.
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome - When compression of blood occurs in the area between the first rib and the shoulder (thoracic outlet). Signs and symptoms such as arm pain and discoloration in the affected hand often confirm the diagnosis.
- Peripheral Neuropathy - This is caused when nerves in the arm become damaged, resulting in pain throughout the affected area. Diabetes, a buildup of toxins in the body, infections, trauma to the affected area or metabolic issues can cause peripheral neuropathy to occur. Additional symptoms include numbness or pain in the affected limbs.
- Acid Reflux Disease - People suffering from acid reflux disease or heartburn can develop pressure or pain throughout the chest. This pain can shoot down the arm, often causing the patient to mistake this sensation for a heart attack.
- Heart Disease - Pain in the left arm can be a sign that you are developing the symptoms of heart disease. This may include chest pain and excessive sweating. Pain in the arm is a sign that you are having trouble getting the proper blood supply to your limbs which can be a sign that you are at risk for having a heart attack.
Home Remedies for Upper Arm Pain
- Have a rest - Resting the affected area can help your body repair the damage that is causing your arm to be sore.
- Ice - Icing the affected area can help take down swelling that may be contributing to your discomfort. Apply ice packs for 10-20 minutes at a time three or more times a day for the best results. After the first 72 hours, alternate these cold packs with heat and gentle exercise to promote flexibility.
- Compression - Wrapping a sore arm can help decrease swelling. Work to bandage your arm in a way that will provide adequate support but is not so tight as to cut off the circulation. If you start to experience numbness or tingling after you apply compression to your arm, rewrap it more loosely.
- Elevation - Elevating a sore limb can also help take down swelling. Lie down and place the arm above the heart for best results.
- Massage - Massaging a sore arm can help increase blood flow, causing the arm to feel better. Do not continue with your massage if it causes you any pain.
- Stop smoking - Smoking decreases the blood supply throughout the body, slowing down the healing process. Stop smoking until your arm has had a chance to heal properly.
- Take off accessories - Wearing watches or jewelry on the hand and arm can be dangerous if your arm is injured. If the arm begins to swell it can be difficult to remove these pieces later. This can also cut off the circulation to other parts of the body.
When to See a Doctor
- If you are experiencing arm pain that has not improved after trying to manage your symptoms for several days, the pain in the arm becomes worse or the arm begins to turn red you should see a doctor to get the injury evaluated. You should also see your doctor if you have a brachial plexus injury that is not showing improvement.
- Those who are experiencing shoulder or arm pain that gets worse with exertion but is relieved by rest, talk to your doctor. This can be a sign that you are experiencing angina and heart disease. If you suddenly injure your arm and you hear a cracking sound or experience severe pain and swelling or you are having trouble moving your arm, contact your doctor immediately.
- Those that are experiencing severe pain in their arm accompanied by a squeezing sensation in the chest or an obvious deformity such as a protruding bone or bleeding contact emergency medical services immediately.