Arm pain can be a dull or a sharp discomfort. Most times, pain in your arms is due to a muscle over-use injury or a physical injury from an accident. If the arm pain cannot be explained or becomes severe, it may be caused by an underlying condition.
Arm pain will usually resolve after resting the limb, caring for the injury or taking mild pain relievers, like paracetamol. If the pain remains, you should see your healthcare provider.
When your arm hurts, this likely caused by everyday tasks or and accident, such as a fall.
You can also experience arm pain if you:
- Exercise or work with your arms without rest, which leads to a muscle over-use injury. Arm pain can happen if you exercise without stretching or do a lot of manual labour involving lifting heavy items. This can cause a tennis elbow, which is due to an irritation of a tendon.
- Fall on or bump your arm and twist or tear your muscles.
- Have an accident that breaks your bones or dislocates your arm. You will likely feel severe pain in the affected arm. You may also notice that the shape is unusual, and that you have difficulty moving the arm.
- Suffer a heart attack. You may have pain radiating from your back to your left arm or both arms. You will also feel some tightness in your chest or find it difficult to breathe. A heart attack is a serious condition, and you should seek medical help immediately.
- Have compressed nerves in your backbone. You can feel the pain from compressed nerves of your spine in your arms. This can cause you long-term pain and discomfort.
- Other medical conditions, such as gallstones, heart problems, or lung infections may also cause arm pain. You are likely to experience other symptoms such as abdominal pain, chest discomfort or cough, respectively, together with the arm pain.
Usually, arm pain will resolve with over-the-counter pain medicines or home remedies such as placing an ice-pack on the arm. However, if you notice any of the following, you need to visit your healthcare provider immediately.
- If you notice a change in the shape of your arm, or if the affected arm grows darker.
- If you find it difficult to move the arm or your joints feel stiff and swollen.
- If you felt nothing on the arm, or it feels weak or feels like pins and needles.
- If the pain is sudden and comes with chest, neck or back pain, discomfort, or difficulty breathing.
Some causes of arm pain can be prevented. Here are some tips on how to prevent arm pain:
- Do not use your arm continuously without taking a break. If you are a typist, writer, driver or use your arm a lot, take some minutes off to rest your arms.
- Try not to lift heavy weights during exercise without a warming-up and stretching. A warm-up prepares your muscles and prevents them from being sore.
- When you sleep, try not to put your arms under your head, as this may cause nerve compression.
These are some things that you can do that can help relieve your arm pain:
- Rest the affected arm. Do not overwork your arm while it hurts. Avoid arm workouts and lifting heavy loads while it hurts.
- Wrap ice-cubes in a towel or soak a towel in cool water and place it on the affected arm. Doing this can help reduce the pain and swelling.
- Raise your arm. If your arm is swollen, raising it above your head may help reduce the swelling.
- Pain medicines. You can use mild pain relievers like paracetamol or ibuprofen to reduce the pain. You can massage the arm with balms or gels containing pain relievers.
Your healthcare provider will recommend treatment of your arm pain based on the cause. They may recommend that you take more potent pain relievers or antibiotics. You may require surgery or have to wear a plaster cast on the affected arm. It is also possible that you need physical therapy or arm exercises to relieve your arm pain.
Pain in your arms can cause a lot of discomfort and lost productivity while it lasts. Follow the self-care tips to prevent the pain from getting worse. If your pain does get worse or becomes long-term, support the affected arm using a sling to help it heal faster.