Last reviewed by Editorial Team on August 13th, 2018.
Upper Arm Pain – What does it mean?
Humans have been equipped with upper extremities that are more than useful. In the situation that you experience pain at the level of the upper arm, you might be surprised that there are many activities that can no longer be pursued. While some people prefer to go work through the pain, it is important to give this pain an adequate amount of attention. Do not try to diagnose yourself but rather visit the doctor and get a diagnosis from a genuine professional. Make sure that you take the treatment prescribed and also visit the physical therapist for a proper rehabilitation.
Symptoms of Upper Arm Pain
These are the symptoms that can appear at the same time with the upper arm pain:
- Reduced range of motion in the shoulder joint
- Impossibility to move the arm at all
- Redness in the area where pain is present
- The skin in the painful area can appear to be warm to the touch (suggestive of inflammation or infection)
- Bleeding is a common occurrence in open fractures of the upper arm
- Inflammation (often seen in people who have suffered an injury or were involved in an accident)
- Paresthesia (suggestive of nerve damage)
- Burning sensation
- Numbness (once again, may be a sign of nerve damage)
- Electric shock sensation (suggestive of brachial plexus injury)
- Skin discoloration (seen in the thoracic outlet syndrome)
- Heart attack symptoms
- Pain in the chest
- Difficult breathing
- Profuse sweating.
Causes of Upper Arm Pain
These are the most common causes that may lead to the appearance of upper arm pain:
- Upper arm pain may be caused by bone fracture or subluxation
- Often seen in people who have taken a fall or suffered a car accident
- In case of an open fracture, the bone might be visible at the level of the skin
- Brachial plexus injury
- High risk – contact sports
- The patient might present a reduced range of motion or he/she might be unable to move his/her arm
- Inflammation of the tendons that connect the upper arm muscles to the bones
- Appears in the situation that the connective tissue was used excessively
- Muscle straining
- Seen in the situation that the person stretches the upper arm muscles excessively
- The lifting of heavy objects can lead to similar problems
- Thoracic outlet syndrome
- This condition appears when blood was compressed between the shoulder and the first rib (this area is known as the thoracic outlet)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Damage at the level of the arm nerves
- May be seen in patients with diabetes
- Also appears in case of infection or injury
- Gastroesophageal acid reflux disease
- The heartburn can imitate the pain caused by a heart attack
- Pain may also radiate towards the upper arm, mimicking once more the symptoms of a heart attack
- Heart attack
- The upper arm pain is one of the most common symptoms of a heart attack
- Other causes
- Rotator cuff injury.
Treatment for Upper Arm Pain
These are the treatment measures recommended for the upper arm pain:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory treatment
- Administered as symptomatic treatment
- Reduce the pain and inflammation
- Topical or oral administration (depending on the severity of the pain)
- Should be administered with caution in those who suffer from chronic liver disease (as they are processed through the liver)
- Topical or oral administration
- Anti-inflammatory effect and pain relief
- Cannot be administered for prolonged periods of time, due to the negative side-effects over one’s health
- Oral administration
- May be administered intravenously in more serious cases
- Cannot be administered for prolonged periods of time, due to the high risk of addiction
- Surgical intervention
- Recommended in patients who have sustained injury, such as bone fracture
- Physical therapy
- Recommended for the rehabilitation of the patients who have sustained different injuries, muscle strains or fractures
- The purpose of physical therapy is to help the patient regain his/her normal range of motion and also to strengthen the muscles that surround the respective joint.
These are the remedies that can be considered when it comes to the upper arm pain:
- Physical rest
- In order to guarantee a faster healing, you will need to refrain from moving the upper arm in the acute period
- Cold application
- Ice wrapped in a towel/cold compress – reduction of inflammation, pain relief
- The ice pack should not be applied directly on the skin, as it can actually burn the skin; when wrapped in a towel, the application should be maintained for approximately 15 to 20 minutes
- The best results are obtained when the ice pack or cold compress is applied two or three times per day
- Warm application
- Recommended to be applied on the skin after the acute period has passed
- Can promote a better healing process, by stimulating the blood flow in the area
- The warm and cold applications can be alternated, in order to improve the symptoms experienced by the patient
- Reduction of inflammation
- A compression bandage might be applied for the best results
- It is recommended to keep the arm elevated, in order to bring down the swelling
- Massage → increased blood circulation in the injured area → faster healing (gentle massage is recommended).
Apart from these remedies and self-care measures, it is recommended to give up habits that are bad for you, such as smoking or drinking alcohol. It is for the best to take off any items of jewelry from that respective arm; in the situation that the inflammation becomes too severe, you might have difficulties removing them.
When should you consider going to the doctor?
In the situation that your symptoms do not improve after the administration of symptomatic treatment or through natural remedies, you should consider paying a visit to the doctor. The same goes for the situation in which the inflammation becomes more intense, with the injured area appearing red and warm to the touch. A heart attack, on the other hand, is an emergency medical situation and it requires immediate intervention. The sooner one reaches the emergency room, the better the chances of survival are going to be.