Arm pain: Possible Causes and Serious Symptoms

Picture of Arm pain


Arm pain Overview

Arm pain can be caused by a wide variety of problems, ranging from joint injuries to compressed nerves. Depending on the cause, arm pain can start suddenly or develop over time. In many cases, arm pain actually originates from a problem in your neck or upper spine. Arm pain, particularly pain that radiates into your left arm, can even be a sign of a heart attack.

Alternative Names

Arm pain is also sometimes referred to as:

  • upper extremity pain
  • pain in arm
  • pain in upper limb
  • pain of upper limb

Synopsis of Arm Pain

Pain is an unpleasant sensation triggered in the nervous system that can range from mild discomfort to unbearable agony. Pain receptors located throughout the body send electrical impulses via the spinal cord to the brain. Arm pain is pain anywhere in the upper extremities. It can be from the fingers to the shoulder. Arm pain can be in one arm (unilateral) or both arms (bilateral), and new onset (acute) or long-standing (chronic). Pain may be dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, cramping or burning. Each individual has a unique ability to tolerate pain. This depends on their age, personality, and circumstances. You will need to be able to describe your pain accurately in order to assist the doctor who evaluates in diagnosing your problem.

Arm pain may be caused by injury or overuse of the arm or components of the arm. In this case, once the problem is treated, the pain will resolve. Arm pain may be the result of referred pain from another part of the body. For instance, in a heart attack many people experience pain in the arm or jaw because the sensory information originating in the heart and arm follow the same neurological pathways to the brain. That’s why it’s important not to ignore any new onset of arm or jaw pain, especially when accompanied by other risk factors or symptoms of heart disease.

Causes of Arm pain

Possible causes of arm pain include:

  • Angina
  • Brachial plexus injury
  • Broken arm
  • Broken wrist/broken hand
  • Bursitis
  • Cancer (malignancy), primary or metastatic
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Cervical spondylosis
  • De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
  • Dislocated elbow
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Heart attack
  • Herniated disk
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Sprains and strains
  • Tendinitis
  • Tennis elbow
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome
  • Ulnar nerve entrapment

Symptoms of Arm pain

What other symptoms might occur with arm pain?

Other symptoms may occur with arm pain. Symptoms vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. For example, if you have a fever, your arm pain may be due to infection or inflammation. Arm pain due to arthritis may occur with joint stiffness and reduced range of motion.

Symptoms that might occur along with arm pain

Symptoms that may occur with arm pain include:

  • Back, neck or shoulder pain
  • Burning feeling in the arm
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Flu-like symptoms (fatigue, fever, sore throat, headache, cough, aches and pains)
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle spasms
  • Numbness
  • Reduced elbow movement
  • Skin bumps
  • Skin discoloration, such as bruising
  • Swelling
  • Unexpected weight loss

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, arm pain may occur with other symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have arm pain with other serious symptoms including:

  • Arm deformity
  • Bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails
  • Change in level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or unresponsiveness
  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions
  • Chest pain radiating to the left arm, shoulder, neck or jaw
  • High fever (higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Inability to use your arm
  • Popping or cracking sound at time of arm injury
  • Red streaks around a tender sore or lump
  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, and choking
  • Weakness (loss of strength)