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Pain in one or both of your armpits can be caused by many things, including muscle strain, contact dermatitis, shingles, or, in some cases, cancer. Finding the cause can be crucial to avoid complications.

Keep reading to learn more about the possible causes and treatments for your pain.

Armpit pain can occur for many different reasons. Causes of armpit pain can range from minor issues, like skin irritation from shaving and muscle pulls, to serious conditions like breast cancer.

Your armpit pain could be the result of something temporary, or it could be a warning sign for a more serious condition.

These are some of the common causes for armpit pain:

Muscle strain

There are several muscles of the chest and arms that could cause armpit pain from overuse or injury.

The pectoralis major is a large chest muscle that runs up into the shoulder. It can be injured by playing sports or lifting weights.

The coracobrachialis is a muscle in the upper arm that you can also strain during sports, like baseball or tennis.

If you sprain any of these or other muscles of the chest or upper arm, you could feel the pain in the armpit.

Swollen lymph nodes

Your lymphatic system is a network of nodes or glands found throughout the body. These nodes produce a fluid that helps fight infections.

There’s a concentration of lymph nodes near the armpit on both sides of the body, and if these swell, they may cause pain in your armpits.

Causes of swollen lymph nodes include:

  • Cold or flu: Your lymph nodes may become swollen and tender if you have a cold or the flu.
  • Lymphedema: Lymphedema occurs when there’s a blockage in a lymph node, and the fluid inside builds up. This swelling can be very painful.
  • Lymphadenopathy. This also causes the lymph nodes to enlarge. It’s the result of an infection of the lymphatic system called lymphadenitis.

Breast cancer

Breast cancer is often painless in its early stages, but it may cause swelling in your armpit, breast, or collarbone. If you notice pain or feel a lump at these sites, make an appointment with your doctor.

The cause of the discomfort may be a benign growth and not something to worry about, but it’s always safest to check with a medical professional.

Contact dermatitis

Certain deodorants or laundry detergents can trigger an allergic reaction in your armpits. That can cause contact dermatitis, a type of rash.

Contact dermatitis will typically subside if you stop using products that trigger your allergic response. Anti-itch treatments like hydrocortisone cream, as well as antihistamines, may help reduce the initial inflammation.

Hidradenitis suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa looks like acne under your arms. But this is a more serious problem that can cause scarring. This condition typically affects places where the skin rubs together, like the armpits.

Hidradenitis suppurativa can cause boil-like lumps on the skin, which may secrete blood or pus. Doctors will typically recommend antibiotics and anti-inflammatories to treat the condition.


Shingles is another skin-related condition that can cause armpit pain.

It’s an infection spread by the varicella-zoster virus. Shingles causes a scaly, uncomfortable rash that usually appears on your back, chest, or under your arms. The virus can also cause a burning or tingling sensation.

Peripheral artery disease (PAD)

PAD is a narrowing of the smaller arteries in the arms and legs. That causes less oxygenated blood to reach the muscles and tissue of your limbs.

Oxygen-starved muscles hurt. If you have PAD in one or both arms, you might feel that pain in your armpit.

Depending on the cause of your armpit pain, your symptoms may be quite different.

Skin conditions, like inflamed hair follicles or shingles, will cause obvious rashes or other visible symptoms.

Lymph node disorders can cause swelling in the arm or armpit. You may also experience pain or swelling in the abdomen or legs if other lymph nodes are affected.

Signs of breast cancer can include changes in the shape and size of the breast. Dimpling of the breast skin, known as peau d’orange, and changes to the appearance of the nipple may also occur.

Your doctor will examine your armpit and ask about other symptoms you have.

They’ll also want to know when the armpit pain started. They may also examine your throat, ears, and skin to help with the diagnosis.

If they suspect a lymph node disorder or breast cancer, you may need a blood test and possibly a biopsy of tissue from a lymph node or, if present, a lump. The blood test may include a complete blood count (CBC) and a test for markers specific to the suspected condition.

Treating a strained muscle usually involves ice and rest for the first few days. As the pain subsides, you may apply heat to help improve circulation in the area. Light stretching can also boost circulation.

Shingles treatment can include antiviral drugs, like acyclovir (Zovirax), valacyclovir (Valtrex), and famciclovir (Famvir) to knock out the virus and keep symptoms under control.

If the pain from shingles is too great, capsaicin cream or numbing drugs, like lidocaine (AneCream, LMX 4, LMX 5, RectaSmoothe, RectiCare), may be necessary.

Treatment for hidradenitis suppurativa involves the use of antibiotics and acne-fighting medications. If the condition doesn’t respond to medications, surgery may be necessary.

Treatment for swollen lymph nodes depends on the cause. A bacterial infection will require antibiotics, while a viral infection will usually need time to resolve itself. Sometimes, a warm, wet cloth applied to the affected part of the armpit may reduce the pain.

If the pain is a symptom of breast cancer, then treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor or affected lymph nodes, chemotherapy, or radiation.

There’s no proven way to prevent breast cancer or lymphatic disorders. But getting annual exams can help you get diagnosed early.

Other causes of underarm pain may be avoidable with a few precautions. For instance, you can prevent a pulled muscle by stretching and not pushing yourself beyond your abilities in the weight room.

Other less serious skin problems, like contact dermatitis, can be prevented by switching deodorants, antiperspirant products, or detergents that might be bothering your skin.

In general, you want to practice good skin hygiene in areas that can trap oil, sweat, and dirt. Keep your armpits clean and don’t wait to see a doctor if you notice a rash or other problem.

Armpit pain that’s related to a muscle strain might be able to heal on its own after resting your muscles for a few days. If you have other symptoms, like swelling or the presence of a lump, you should see your doctor.

Doctors may refer you to a hematologist who specializes in lymph node disorders or a breast cancer specialist if cancer is suspected.

If you see a rash or other signs of skin problems under your arm, talk with a doctor about treatment or for a possible referral to a dermatologist.

If you suspect a lymph node disorder and have symptoms like fever or congestion, you may have a respiratory infection related to your lymph nodes.

In most cases, early treatment of any condition will lead to better outcomes. If the pain is a temporary muscle-related problem, getting a diagnosis can ease some anxiety too.

If you have armpit pain that lasts for more than a few days or there are other symptoms, like swelling or a rash, see a doctor right away.

Read this article in Spanish.