Strokes can often lead to pain, numbness, weakness, and a reduced range of motion in your arm and shoulder. Fortunately, arm and shoulder pain can typically be managed with treatments like pain-relieving medication and physical therapy.

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You might not associate a stroke with arm pain, but arm and shoulder pain after a stroke are very common. In fact, according to the American Heart Association, up to 84% of all stroke survivors develop shoulder pain following a stroke.

Over time, physical therapy can alleviate pain and restore muscle strength.

A stroke can leave you with pain in your arm and shoulder.

The effects of a stroke can lead to arm muscle weakness, tightness, or to a lack of feeling in your arm. It can also lead to problems with the ball and socket joint that form your shoulder.

The symptoms of stroke arm pain depend on the exact cause of your stroke arm. For example, you might have trouble using your arm for everyday tasks, and you might notice a lack of sensation in your arm.

In other cases, you might not be able to move your arm as far or as well as you could before your stroke. You might have difficulty reaching your arm above your head or out to your sides. Pain in your arm might radiate from your shoulder to your wrists, or might be concentrated in one area.

A stroke causes cells in your brain to die. This can lead to paralysis and weakness throughout your body, including your shoulder and arm.

Your arm and shoulder can be affected in multiple ways. This includes:

  • Partial shoulder dislocation: A stroke can cause your shoulder to partially dislocate, leading to pain. This is sometimes called a subluxation.
  • A frozen shoulder: A “frozen shoulder” happens when the ball and socket joint of your shoulder become stiff, inflamed, and damaged. The condition can be very painful and can limit your range of motion.
  • Contracture: Contracture happens because lack of movement causes the muscles to shrink and then shorten. Physical therapy can help to improve this condition.
  • Spasticity: Spasticity has increased muscle stiffness in your arm, which can cause pain and difficulty using your arm.
  • Arm paralysis: A stroke often causes one-sided paralysis that can include the arm.
  • Neuropathy: Sometimes, strokes lead to complications like neuropathy, or nerve pain, that can affect the arm.

It’s important to talk with a healthcare professional about any arm pain you’re having following a stroke. They can help you get the care you need to relieve your symptoms.

They might want to do in-office physical evaluations, like testing your range of motion or grip strength. In some cases, imaging tests like X-rays might also be ordered. A physical therapy assessment will likely follow.

A physical therapist can determine your pain levels and develops a plan to help you regain your strength and range of motion.

Physical and occupational therapy are two of the biggest components of treating arm pain after a stroke. The exact number of treatment sessions and the exact treatments and exercises you’ll do will depend on your pain and on the progress you make during therapy.

It’s likely that supportive devices will also be part of your treatment. You might use an arm sling or light brace to help manage your symptoms and stabilize your joints. Other treatment options might include:

  • Pain medications: Your doctor might recommend or prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to manage pain. If your pain is severe, you and your doctor might discuss stronger pain relief options.
  • Muscle relaxers: Prescription muscle relaxers can help treat spasticity.
  • Botox or steroid injections: Botox injections can help relax the muscles in your arms. Steroid injections can take down inflammation and swelling.
  • Electrical muscle stimulation: Electrical muscle stimulation can be done during physical therapy sessions and can help to relieve pain and strengthen muscles.
  • Electrical brain stimulation: Brain stimulation can help your nerves and arm muscles work together.
  • Assistive devices: Devices like specialty pillows and lap trays can help you during recovery.

Some people are able to regain full use of their arm within a few weeks following their stroke. Other people have chronic arm pain and need months of physical therapy.

The path to recovery after a stroke is highly individual and depends on a variety of factors. This includes your age, overall health, when you received stroke treatment, and the therapy receive.

Your doctor, physical therapist, occupational therapist, and other care team members can give you an idea of what to expect in your specific situation.

You can learn more about arm pain following a stroke by reading the answers to some commonly asked questions.

Are there any complications of stroke arm pain?

Stroke arm pain and paralysis could increase your risk of arm bone fracture. It could also increase your risk of under-use, which could lead to further muscle deterioration.

What can I eat after a stroke?

It’s important to eat the right foods to help your body recover from a stroke. Nutrition is a great way to build muscle strength and heal.

It’s a good idea to eat foods like fresh fruits and vegetables and lean meat. It’s also best to avoid red meats and foods high in sugar, salt, and saturated fat.

What are the best ways to prevent another stroke?

Your doctor will discuss your best treatment options and your plan for avoiding a future stroke. But there are also lifestyle steps you can take at home to help reduce your risk of a second stroke. These include:

  • stop smoking
  • limit or stop drinking alcohol
  • get regular exercise
  • follow a nutrition-rich diet
  • maintain or achieve a healthy weight
  • take steps to lower your blood pressure
  • manage your stress levels
  • take care of your mental health

A stroke can result in arm and shoulder pain. You might experience arm paralysis, weakness, pain, and a limited range of motion. Treatments like physical therapy, slings, pain medication, and botox injections can help treat your pain.

The time it takes to treat and heal your arm pain can vary. Stroke recovery is dependent on a number of personal factors and can be hard to predict.

Your physical therapist and other care team members will work with you to develop the best treatment plan for your situation.