Arm Pain 101

WHAT IS ARM PAIN?

Arm pain is a common condition. We define it as pain or discomfort felt in the arm. Pains in the wrist, shoulder or elbow may also be classified as arm pain. Arm pain is mostly caused either by overuse of the arm, or, from an injury. There are many other causes of arm pain but these two are the most common. The arm pain may be acute or chronic depending on the cause.

Arm pain
Photo Credit: The Pain Center

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF ARM PAIN?

The symptoms experienced depends on the cause of the pain. Common symptoms of arm pain include:

  • Redness on the arm
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling of the lymph nodes under the arm

WHAT CAUSES ARM PAIN?

We have established that the symptoms experienced depends on the causes. Causes of arm pain may be mild or severe. Possible causes of arm pain include:

Pinched nerves

Pinched nerves is a condition caused by excessive pressure to the nerves. This pressure may be caused by the surrounding:

  • Muscles
  • Bones
  • Tendons
  • Cartilage

Symptoms accompanying a pinched nerve may include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • A weakness of the muscle
  • Sharp pain

Sprain

Sprains are caused by a tearing or stretching of the tendons or ligaments. Sprains are very common injuries. A mild sprain can be treated at home but severe forms will require proper medical care at a healthcare facility. Depending on the severity, there may be a need for surgery. Common symptoms of sprains include limited mobility of the joint, swelling, and bruising.

Tendonitis

The term tendonitis refers to an inflammation of the tendon. Tendonitis occurs mainly in the elbows, wrists, and the shoulders. The severity varies. Other symptom of tendonitis include tenderness, aching pain, and mild swelling.

Injury to the rotator cuff

Rotator cuff injury is a common condition in people who frequently perform overhead motions. Baseball players and painters belong to these class of persons. Symptoms of rotator cuff injury include weakness of the arm and an ache in the shoulder, usually the dull type.

Fractured bones

Fractured or broken bones trigger very sharp, and immense pain in the arm. Sometimes an audible sound is heard when the bone breaks. Symptoms of a broken bone include:

  • Bruising
  • Swelling
  • The patient is unable to move his or her arm upward
  • Severe pain
  • Deformity (usually very visible)

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis occur when the joints are directly inflamed. Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Fatigue
  • Joint stiffness
  • Swelling of the joints
  • Tenderness of the affected joint

Angina

Angina is pain that occurs in the chest when the heart is not getting adequate oxygen. Angina causes arm and shoulder pain as well as pressure in the back, neck and the chest. When a person has angina, then it may be a clear indication of a heart problem. Other symptoms of angina may include:

  • Pains in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath
  • Nausea

Heart attack

A person is said to have a heart attack when blood fails to get to the heart due to an obstruction in a blood vessel. When this happens, the heart becomes deprived of oxygen. Some parts of the heart muscle begin to die off especially if the oxygen does not return soon enough. A person who has a heart attack may experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain in either or both arms
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • A cold sweat
  • Pain in the upper part of the body

If you think that you’ve got a heart attack, please do not hesitate to call 911 or the emergency number of your country.

HOW IS ARM PAIN DIAGNOSED?

To treat arm pain effectively, the physician will first of all have to diagnose the underlying cause. The doctor conducts a history exam, and then a physical examination. He or she will inquire of your injuries, activity, and symptoms. Tests will then be conducted based on the symptoms that you are experiencing. The following tests are done:

  • You may be asked to raise your arms or perform some simple motions. The goal is to evaluate how far you can move these parts of your body. By evaluating your range of motion, the physician can identify the location of the injury or pain, and the cause of the injuries.
  • Blood tests may also be done. This will help the doctor to detect those conditions that could cause pains in the arm, such as conditions that cause inflammation, or diabetes.
  • X-rays help in the identification and diagnosis of fractures
  • If you have a heart condition, or your doctor suspects that you have one, then they may order some tests to evaluate the physiology of your heart and the flow of blood through your heart.
  • Ultrasound scans may be done. With this, the doctor can get a clear image of the inside of your body. These images will help, the doctor to detect problems with your tendons, ligaments, and joints.
  • CT scans or MRIs may be done to get a detailed image of your bones and tissues. This can help them to diagnose some problems.

WHEN DOES ARM PAIN BECOME AN EMERGENCY?

In many cases, arm pain does not constitute an emergency. Home remedies may be used to relieve the condition. However, you can get emergency treatment in some cases.

If you think that you have a bone fracture, heart attack or any other heart condition, and it might be responsible for your arm pain, then call 911 or the emergency number of your country as soon as you can.

Broken arms may be identified by symptoms such as:

  • A very sharp pain
  • Physical deformities
  • Inability to turn over or bend the hands, fingers, or arms.

A heart attack is identified by symptoms such as:

  • Pressure or pains in the chest
  • Pain in the neck, upper body, and the back
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Dyspnea or shortness of breath

HOW IS ARM PAIN TREATED?

There are various treatments for arm pain. The kind of treatment prescribed depends on the severity and cause of the arm pain.

The following are some of the common treatment for arm pain:

  • Painkillers may be prescribed in conditions of extreme pain.
  • If the pain is caused by inflammation, then corticosteroids may be prescribed. This will help to treat the cause of the pain and the pain itself.
  • Arm pain may also be treated with physical therapy. This is very important especially when the patient is unable to move the arm as freely as he or she should.
  • During conditions of extreme pain, surgery may be required. For instance, surgery may be needed to repair broken bones or torn ligaments.

Home remedies for arm pain include:

  • Rest
  • Elevation of the affected part to reduce swelling
  • Compression with a brace or with an elastic bandage to reduce swelling
  • Ice to reduce inflammation and swelling

PREVENTING ARM PAIN

Most causes of pain are preventable. You can prevent arm pain or injury with the following:

  • Regular stretch, especially before exercise
  • Carefulness when lifting objects
  • Wearing protective gear during sporting events

If the pain persists, please see your doctor. He or she will do an examination to determine the actual cause, and thus, prescribe the right treatment.

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