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10 causes of arm pain and what to do

Arm pain can be caused by changes to the muscles, tendons or cardiovascular diseases, for example. To identify the cause of this symptom, you should try to remember when it emerged, it's intensity, if it gets better or worse with rest or if you can associate the pain with some kind of trauma or pain in other parts of the body, for example.

Below you will find 10 possible causes for arm pain.

10 causes of arm pain and what to do

Main causes for arm pain

1. Heart attack

Chest pain can migrate to the arm, and you may feel that the arm becomes suddenly very heavy, and sometimes a tingling sensation in the left arm can emerge which may also indicate heart attack.  In some people, a heart attack may not manifest itself in this way, being characterized as bad digestion or discomfort in the throat. Find out about all the symptoms of a heart attack.

What to do: You should go to the emergency room as soon as possible.

2. Angina

Angina is a chest pain that can sometimes radiate to the arm. This pain can be related to circulatory changes such as atherosclerosis, which are fat plaques that build up inside the arteries throughout life, especially in people with high blood pressure and diabetes. Angina may arise after strong emotions or exertion, for example.

What to do: If a heart attack or angina is suspected, go to the emergency room. The doctor may recommend the use of medication to improve blood flow through the arteries such as isosorbide dinitrate or isosorbide mononitrate, for example. 

3. Panic attack or anxiety crisis

An anxiety crisis can cause symptoms like shaking, heart palpitation, chest pain, hot feeling, sweating, shortness of breath and a strange feeling in the arm. In a panic crisis a person may experience belly pain, diarrhea and may not be able to leave the house, avoiding contact with people, preferring to be alone in a room.

What to do: In a panic or anxiety crisis you should take deep breaths, stay calm and if you need to, you can crouch to feel more protected.

4. Tendinitis

Arm and shoulder pain may be tendinitis, a situation that mainly affects teachers, masons and painters because they have to raise their arm several times a day at work. However this type of pain can also affect bus or truck drivers or people who have fallen and hit their shoulders on the ground. The pain can be located only on the shoulder or radiate to the arm, reaching the elbow.

What to do: Putting a cold patch with crushed ice is a good option to fight shoulder and arm pain. Physical therapy is also a good option for persistent pain that lasts for more than 1 month. See some of the treatment and exercise options that can be done in shoulder tendinitis.

10 causes of arm pain and what to do

5. Distension in the biceps or triceps muscles 

The signs and symptoms that may indicate a possible strain on the front or back muscle of the arm is a pain localized near the elbow, which may have arisen after a fall, trauma or strain in the gym, for example. The region may be a little swollen, but this is not always noticeable.

What to do: During the first 48 hours, it may be helpful to put a cold patch on the pain affected area, and after that period, you should put a warm patch for 20 minutes, 1 or 2 times a day. Passing an anti-inflammatory ointment like Diclofenac may also help. Learn more details on how you can treat a muscle strain.

6. Rotator cuff injury

Shoulder pain may be due to shoulder impact syndrome, it is when there is a lesion in the structures that helps to stabilize this region, causing symptoms such as shoulder pain, in addition to difficulty in lifting the arm and weakness, and can be caused by both tendinitis or partial or total tendon rupture in the region.

What to do: To treat this syndrome, rest, ice and physical therapy are indicated, and the orthopedist may also indicate the use of anti-inflammatory, such as ketoprofen, to relieve pain or, in cases where there is improvement, a surgical treatment may be necessary.

7. Adhesive capsulitis

In adhesive capsulitis a person can not move the shoulder, which seems to be frozen, the pain radiates to the arm and is more intense at night. This change may occur suddenly during sleep, and appears to be related to psychological disorders. There may be shoulder pain and symptoms remain for months, compromising daily tasks such as dressing and combing the hair.

What to do: Physical therapy sessions with clinical kinesiotherapy and pilates exercises, as well as passive mobilization techniques.

8. Shoulder displacement

Pain in the arm and the shoulder may emerge in people who can easily dislocate their shoulder, doing this of their own volition. This can happen after an episode of involuntary shoulder movement. In this case, the person's capsule that forms the joint and ligaments is more elastic than normal, facilitating the removal of the bone of the arm from inside the shoulder.

What to do: To relieve the pain you can take a warm bath and pass an ointment like Diclofenac on the shoulder and arm. But to prevent this shift from occurring frequently it is advised to strengthen the muscles with shoulder exercises in the gym or physiotherapy.

10 causes of arm pain and what to do

9. Osteoporosis

Pain in the arms and legs may indicate osteoporosis, this pain may be present even when you are resting, being more common in people over 50, especially women during or after menopause.

What to do: The treatment mainly consists of an increased intake of calcium-rich foods and with medication that supplement calcium and vitamin D, for example.

10. Arthrosis

Shoulder osteoarthrosis is one of the common causes of shoulder pain after the age of 45, and arises when performing large-range movements, which can remain for a few hours, and there may be sand sensation at the shoulder joint and shoulder clicks during movements.

What to do: The treatment for osteoarthritis is done with the use of pain relief medications, which should be recommended by the orthopedist, and physiotherapy sessions to improve shoulder mobility. Treatment is usually time-consuming and, depending on the case, surgery may be necessary.

When to go to the doctor

You should go to the emergency room if:

  • You suspect you are having a heart attack or angina;
  • The pain in the arm arises suddenly and is very strong;
  • When the pain gets worse with exertion;
  • It seems the pain is in the bones and you cannot find any relief at all;
  • If you notice any clear deformity in the arm.

You should see your doctor if:

  • You have had arm pain for more than 1 week;
  • The pain in the arm radiates to the shoulder, hands or fingers;
  • You have severe pain and swelling in the arm;
  • The pain is getting worse over time.

If symptoms such as fever are present it is possible that it is caused by an infection, and it is necessary to perform tests to identify the cause.


  • KISNER, Carolyn; COLBY Lynn Allen. Exercícios terapêuticos: Fundamentos e Técnicas. 6ª.ed. São Paulo: Manole, 2016.
  • Mark Dutton. Fisioterapia ortopédica: exame, avaliação e intervenção. 2ª.ed. Porto Alegre: Artmed, 2010.
  • HARVARD HEALTH PUBLISCHING. Ouch! Shoulder pain and how to treat it. Link: <www.health.harvard.edu>. Access in 23 Apr 2019
  • NHS. Shoulder pain. Link: <www.nhs.uk>. Access in 23 Apr 2019
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