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What causes arm pain? 62 possible conditions

Arm Pain Overview

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

Arm pain is also sometimes referred to as:

  • 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. It can be from the fingers to the shoulder. Arm pain can be in one arm (unilateral) or both arms (bilateral), and new onset (acute) or long-standing (chronic). Pain may be dull or sharp, constant or intermittent, cramping or burning. Each individual has a unique ability to tolerate pain. This depends 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 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’s why it’s 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.

When to Call Your Provider

  • 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

When to 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 

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.


Rotator Cuff Injury

The rotator cuff is a group of four muscles and tendons that help stabilize the shoulder and aid in movement. Rotator cuff strains or tears are caused by overuse or acute injury. Repetitive lifting can put you at risk.

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Arthritis is inflammation of the joints (where bones meet) in one or more areas of the body. This condition is most commonly seen in adults, but it can also develop in children and teens.

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Carpal Tunnel

Carpal tunnel syndrome is the compression of the median nerve, the nerve that passes through your wrist. A common symptom is numbness or tingling in the thumb and first three fingers.

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Tennis Elbow

Tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is painful inflammation of the elbow joint caused by repetitive stress (overuse). The pain is typically felt on the outside (lateral) part of the upper arm just above the elbo...

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Radiculopathy refers to disease of the spinal nerve roots. Radiculopathy produces pain , numbness, or weakness radiating from the spine.

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Heart Attack Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A clot blocks the blood flow to the heart (heart attack), and damages heart muscle. Symptoms include chest pain, shortness of breath, and a blue or grey tinge to the skin.

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Whiplash occurs when a person's neck is forced backward and then forward very suddenly. Whiplash results when the soft tissues–the muscles and ligaments–of your neck are extended beyond their typical range of motion.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A dislocation occurs when the bones that are usually be connected at a joint separate. You can dislocate a variety of different joints in your body, including your knee, hip, ankle, or shoulder. Since a dislocatio...

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What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread, unexplained pain in tender points in muscles and joints, including the head, neck, and sides of hips.

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Frozen Shoulder

Conditions that cause joint inflammation or long periods of inactivity can result in thicker, tighter joint capsule tissue. Scar tissue will develop over time, interfering with the shoulder joint's ability to rotat...

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Sprains & Strains

Sprains and strains are injuries to the body, often resulting from physical activity. These injuries are common and can range from minor to severe, depending on the incident. Most don't require medical attention.

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Cervical Spondylosis

Cervical spondylosis is a condition that results from the wear and tear of the cartilage and bones of the cervical spine. One sign is tingling in the shoulders and arms, and sometimes the legs.

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This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A fracture is a broken bone that typically occurs when a bone is impacted by more force or pressure than it can support. In an open fracture, the ends of the broken bone tear the skin.

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Rickets is a nutritional disorder that can develop if you do not get enough vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. Rickets leads to poor functioning of a bone's growth plate (growing edge), softened and weakened bones...

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Osteoporosis is a bone disease due to calcium loss. As a result the bones lose strength and density. People are usually unaware that they have the condition until they experience a fracture.

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Peripheral Vascular Disease

Peripheral vascular disease is a circulation disorder caused by plaque build-up in peripheral arteries. It typically affects the arteries that supply blood to the arms, legs, and organs located below the stomach.

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Peripheral Neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy occurs when nerves malfunction because they're damaged or destroyed. You'll notice a tingling, numbness, or weakness, and possibly sweating, constipation, or diarrhea.

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Bursitis is an inflammation of the bursae, the fluid-filled sacs that help reduce friction where tendons, skin, and muscle tissues meet bones. Inflammation can cause discomfort and limit range of motion.

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Ulnar Nerve Palsy (Dysfunction)

Damage to the nerve that runs from your shoulder to your little finger (ulnar nerve) is known as ulnar nerve palsy. It causes sensation loss and tingling or burning in your hand.

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Tendons are thick cords that join your muscles to your bones. Tendinitis occurs when tendons become irritated or inflamed. This condition causes acute pain and tenderness, making it difficult to move the affected joint.

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.