Bone & Joint Expert Care

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Pain in Right Arm

Pain in the right arm is common and may happen after an injury. Occasionally, it may be a sign of a nerve or bone disorder, especially when it does not improve after a few days. If your arm suddenly starts hurting, try some home remedies like ice application and over-the-counter painkillers. If symptoms worsen or do not improve after a few days, consult your doctor.

 

Common Causes of Right Arm Pain

Various conditions can cause arm pain:

  1. Simple Sprain. A sprain occurs when your arm ligaments are overstretched but not permanently damaged. The stretched ligaments may have been twisted or torn as a result of excessive force applied to your joint.
  2. Tennis Elbow. This condition results when the muscles and tendons near the elbow are overused after repetitive actions such as playing tennis, leading to pain around the elbow. When pain occurs on the inner side of your elbow, it is called a golfer's elbow. The pain from a golfer's elbow or tennis elbow may last longer than a few weeks or months, but will get better after adequate care.
  3. Bursitis. Repetitive movements of the right arm can lead to fluid build-up over your elbow joint, a condition called bursitis. Without proper care, pain and swelling in the elbow usually improve in a few weeks.
  4. Angina. When the blood supply to the heart muscles is reduced due to hardening and narrowing of the blood vessels, chest pain, or angina occurs. Angina usually causes a dull or heavy pain in the chest that sometimes spreads to the neck, jaw, back, and one or both arms. Chest pain is usually triggered by exercise or stress and this lasts for a few minutes. Sometimes, angina is felt only as pain in the arm, so it is important to consult your doctor when you experience arm pain after exercise that is relieved at rest. Angina may be a warning sign of an impending heart attack.
  5. Trapped Nerves. "Wear and tear" often occurs in the bones and joints of the neck spine as a result of ageing, causing the spinal nerves in the neck to be trapped between spinal joints. This can cause pain, which may radiate from your neck to your arms, as well as pins and needles sensation. This condition is known as cervical spondylosis or spinal arthritis.

 

    Less Common Causes of Right Arm Pain

    1. Arthritis. Inflammation of the elbow due to arthritis can cause the joint to become swollen, painful, and warm to touch. This can also lead to pain in right arm.
    2. Broken Arm. A cracked or broken right arm bone (fracture) causes extreme right arm pain and this usually occurs after a fall or a strong blow to the arm.
    3. Syringomyelia. This condition results from the formation of a cyst or syrinx in the spinal cord that is filled with fluid. The syrinx expands over time, damaging the spinal cord, and causing muscle weakness, neck pain, and arm pain. Syringomyelia can worsen, causing changes in bladder and bowel function and loss of sensitivity to temperature and pain. Possible causes include spinal cord injury, tumors, and inflammation around the spinal cord.
    4. Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. This condition occurs when the nerves and blood vessels in the space between your collarbone and your first rib are compressed due to trauma, inflammation, or anatomical abnormality in this area. This compression results in neck pain as well as pain in the arm and shoulder.
    5. Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. Pain in right arm may result from entrapment of the ulnar nerve, which is one of the largest nerves in the arm. When compressed in the elbow, numbness, tingling, and pain may be felt from the elbow to the fingers of the affected side. Pressure on the nerve may result from bending the elbow for long periods during sleep or certain activities.
    6. Biceps Tendinitis. Inflammation of the tendon that connects the upper portion of your biceps muscle with the shoulder bone is called biceps tendinitis. This often occurs with other shoulder problems, like arthritis, shoulder instability, or impingement or compression of tendons in the shoulder. Signs and symptoms include shoulder pain and weakness, arm pain and tenderness, and a snapping sound in the affected shoulder. Repetitive activities involving overhead action such as swimming, tennis, and baseball can cause biceps tendinitis.
    7. Tenosynovitis. Tenosynovitis or inflammation of the sheath surrounding a tendon of the arm, hand, or wrist may occur due to injury, infection, and strain. Signs and symptoms include reduction of active range of motion, joint pain, swelling, pain, and tenderness in the affected area. Fever, redness, and swelling may be present when infected.
    8. Polymyalgia Rheumatic. This is an inflammatory condition characterized by muscle stiffness and pain, commonly involving the neck, upper arm, shoulder, thighs, and hips. This condition affects older people over the age of 65 and is extremely rare in those below 50 years old. Signs and symptoms include upper arm tenderness, stiffness, limited range of motion, fever, malaise, fatigue, loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss.

    Since there are many possibilities that can cause pain in right arm, it is best to consult a doctor especially when the reasons for your symptoms are not obvious, such as injury or stress.

    Right arm injuries can be initially treated with home remedies such as ice pack application and placing a sling to support your arm until you get medical attention.

    For a compressed nerve or strain injuries consistent therapy is needed, such as maintaining good posture and taking frequent breaks from repetitive activities. Other remedies include:

    1. Protection. Protect the area from further injury and use support as needed.
    2. Rest. Stop any activity that causes injury or strain and rest the affected arm.
    3. Ice. Apply ice wrapped in towel to the injured arm for 15-20 minutes every two to three hours for the first 48-72 hours after the injury. Avoid getting a cold burn by not leaving ice on your skin while sleeping, allowing ice to touch the skin directly.
    4. Compression. Bandage the injured area to reduce swelling and limit movement that could further cause damage. Wrap a simple elastic bandage or crepe bandage snugly around affected area without making it too tight to prevent restriction of blood flow. Remove bandage before sleeping.
    5. Elevation. Raise the injured arm and support with a pillow to reduce swelling.

    When to See a Doctor

    You need to seek emergency treatment if:

    1. Your pain in your shoulder, arm, or back comes on suddenly and is unusually severe.
    2. Pain is accompanied by fullness, squeezing, or pressure in your chest (a symptom of a heart attack)
    3. There is bleeding, deformity or bone protrudes in the arm or wrist.

    Consult your doctor if:

    1. You have severe arm pain accompanied by swelling.
    2. You have trouble moving or turning your arm.
    3. Your symptoms do not improve with several days of home treatment.
    4. Your symptoms worsen.

    Left arm pain can be a benign process cause by simple and treatable disorders, but could also be the symptom of more sinister illnesses that could potentially be life threatening.   Certain characters of the left arm pain whether it is dull, sharp, throbbing or shooting along with how the pain changes can help discern if you have a life threatening heart attack  vs a simple neurological or musculoskeletal disorder.  Also, is the pain in the shoulder or back and does it occur in one or both arms?  Let’s discuss the causes of left arm pain and what we should be thinking about in each case.

    If you have a dull left arm pain and it occurs all the time whether at rest or exertion it could be a symptom of a heart attack.  It would come on suddenly and usually the dull ache may also come and go as well.   However, if the pain varies with position of the arm or shoulder then maybe a heart attack or angina isn’t the correct diagnosis.  Nerve impingement such as common at the level of the cervical nerve root or perhaps thoracic outlet syndrome which causes blockage of the brachial plexus where all the nerves of the cervical spine and upper thoracic comes together to then travel throughout the shoulder and arm.

    A shooting pain like an electric shock could indicate significant nerve damage especially if associated with trauma.  There are other disorders which can make your nervous system super sensitive and hense cause either sharp or shooting pain.  More benign disorders like fibromyalgia can mimic this though fibromyalgia while benign in the aspect that it cannot kill you like a heart attack can is a potentially very debilitating disorder.

    If your pain varies with exertion or in other words when you walk, run or do normal activity your pain worsens then when you rest it stops that could certainly be from angina and is technically called stable angina.  This is a precursor to a heart attack and cardiac imaging usually starting with a stress test should be done.  Of course if your cardiologist is highly suspicious of heart disease he may just go straight to a coronary angiogram to get a good look at your anatomy.

    Left arm pain can be a heart attack whether the pain is in women or men regardless.  However, it is said that women have more atypical symptoms than men when it comes to coronary disease, angina and heart attacks.  So it is important that the entire clinical picture be taken into account.

    Anxiety or panic attacks can mimic a heart attack and sometimes have the feeling of pain or sometimes numbness and tingling down the left, right or both arms.  It is often hard to tell the difference and your doctor will advise you to have a full workup and testing done to ensure that your heart is not the culprit.

    The bottom line is if you have pain in the left arm especially when accompanied with other symptoms like nausea, vomiting, sweating, fast heart rate, chest pain, back and shoulder pains it is important to get checked out right away.  Having risk factors like a family history of heart disease, elevated cholesterol, diabetes, hypertension all put you at a much higher probability of that left arm pain actually being a real heart attack.