Arm Pain
Pain is an unpleasant sensation triggered in the nervous system that can range from mild discomfort to unbearable agony. Pain receptors located...

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Arm pain is an unpleasant sensation ranging from mild discomfort to unbearable agony in either or both upper extremities of the body. The pain sensation can be due to actual injury, tissue damage or noxious stimulation of nerve fibers.

Alternative Names

Upper extremity pain, pain in arm, pain in upper limb, pain of upper limb.


Pain is an unpleasant sensation triggered in the nervous system that can range from mild discomfort to unbearable agony. Pain receptors located throughout the body send electrical impulses via the spinal cord to the brain. Arm pain is pain anywhere in the upper extremities – from the finger tips to the shoulder. Arm pain can be unilateral (one arm) or bilateral (both arms); acute (new onset) or chronic (long-standing). Pain may be dull or sharp, constant or intermittent (comes and goes), cramping or burning. Each individual has a unique ability to tolerate pain, depending on their age, personality and circumstances. You will need to be able to describe your pain accurately in order to assist the doctor who evaluates in diagnosing your problem.

Arm pain may be caused by injury or overuse of the arm or components of the arm. In this case, once the problem is treated, the pain will resolve. Arm pain may be the result of referred pain from another part of the body. For instance, in a heart attack, many people, especially women, experience pain in the arm or jaw because the sensory information originating in the heart and arm follow the same neurological pathways to the brain. That is why it is important not to ignore any new onset of arm or jaw pain, especially when accompanied by other risk factors or symptoms of heart disease.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Cumulative trauma disorders of the upper extremity
  • Fractures
  • Arthritis
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Compartment syndrome
  • Heart disease
  • Blood loss
  • Dislocations
  • Burns
  • Frozen shoulder
  • Heart attack
  • Insect bites and stings
  • Lyme disease
  • Neuralgia
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Rotator cuff injury
  • Gout
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Radiculopathy
  • Shingles
  • Angina
  • Whiplash injury
  • Ulnar nerve palsy
  • Gunshot wounds
  • Stab wounds


Assess and treat the underlying condition. If pain is caused by an activity, modify or stop the activity. Rest the arm and resume activity gradually. Monitor the response to the activity.

Call your provider if:

  • You have an area of redness on your arm that is painful
  • You have arm pain that is interfering with participation in activities of daily living or is different than arm pain you have experienced previously.

Call 911:

  • The arm appears deformed or misshapen
  • There is bone protruding through the skin
  • Any obvious bleeding or breaks in the skin with severe blood loss

If you experience arm pain along with any of these symptoms or have a history of risk factors for heart disease:

  • Dizziness
  • Chest pain
  • Confusion
  • Passing out or fainting
  • Sweating profusely
  • Bleeding
  • Jaw pain
  • Severe headache
  • Blindness or visual changes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Pallor (pale skin)
  • Cyanosis (skin turns blue)
  • Disorientation

Written by: JC Jones MA, RN
Reviewed by: Paul Auerbach, MD
Written: September 13, 2007
Last Updated: September 30, 2007
Published By: Healthline Networks Inc.
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