Arm Pain

Arm pain can make it difficult to carry on with daily activity without discomfort and inconvenience. MaineHealth providers are dedicated to diagnosing and treating patients with arm pain so that they can relieve pain as quickly as possible and return to daily activities.

What is arm pain?

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. Arm pain can be experienced anywhere throughout the arm, and it can include pain in the wrist, elbow, and shoulder. Depending on the cause, the pain may start suddenly and go away or it may increase gradually.

Arm pain causes

Arm pain can result from abnormalities or injury of the skin, nerves, bones, joints, blood vessels, and soft tissues. Some causes of arm pain include:

  • Broken bone
  • Bursitis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Dislocated joint
  • Pinched nerve
  • Arthritis
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Sprain or strain
  • Tendinitis

Arm pain symptoms depend on the location, type, and severity

  • Arm redness
  • Pain
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm
  • Tingling
  • Numbness
  • Sharp pain
  • Muscle weakness
  • Bruising
  • Visible deformity
  • Difficulty moving the arm

Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms associated with arm pain. Sometimes arm pain or weakness is a symptom of a serious problem with the heart, nerves, or brain.

Arm pain diagnosis may include X-rays, blood tests

In order to implement proper treatment, your doctor will first need to diagnose the underlying cause of arm pain. A medical history and physical exam will be conducted to find out your activities, potential injuries, and symptoms. Some methods of diagnosis include:

  • Performing specific motions to evaluate your range of motion to identify the location and cause of potential injuries or pain
  • Blood tests
  • X-rays to help diagnose broken or fractured bones
  • If your doctor thinks your arm pain is associated with potential heart complications, tests may be ordered to see how your heart is working and to evaluate the blood flow through your heart.
  • Ultrasounds to detect problems with joints, ligaments, and tendons.
  • MRIs and CT scans to get a more detailed image of soft tissue and bones.  

Arm pain treatment can include physical therapy

  • Prescription medicine
  • Anti-inflammatory medications, such as Alleve
  • Physical therapy to restore arm strength and range of motion
  • Surgery may be necessary in severe cases of arm pain

Treatments for arm pain depend on the underlying cause.

Arm pain prevention can include stretching, exercise

While not all arm pain can be avoided, there are some preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the risk of arm pain altogether. Some prevention strategies include:

  • Stretch regularly before exercise and sports
  • Practice the correct form for the exercises you’re performing to prevent injury
  • Wear protective equipment while playing sports
  • Engage in physical activity daily
  • Lift objects carefully and with proper form

When to Get Medical Help Right Away

If you have the following symptoms, call your provider right away, or go to your local hospital emergency room, urgent care center or walk-in care clinic:

  • Arm pain on one or both sides that comes on with exertion and goes away with rest

  • Sudden onset of severe weakness