Arm Pain

Arm pain is a very common symptom. You may have left arm pain, right arm pain or both. Treatment will depend on the cause. You can treat mild pain at home, but you should seek medical treatment for more severe, sudden or long-lasting pain.


What is arm pain?

Pain in your arms is a common symptom with many different causes. You may have pain, discomfort or soreness anywhere from your shoulders down to your fingers. You may have left arm pain, right arm pain or both. You may also experience itching, numbness or swelling. Arm pain can begin suddenly or develop gradually.

Arm pain may occur due to general wear and tear or overuse. You may also have an injury or a pinched nerve. Certain health conditions, like arthritis, can also cause arm pain. Causes of arm pain may be related to many different parts of your body, including your:

Where in your arm is heart attack pain?

Pain in your left arm — along with chest tightness, trouble breathing and nausea — can sometimes be a symptom of a heart attack. If you have arm pain from a heart attack, it’s important to seek immediate medical attention.


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Possible Causes

What are the most common causes of arm pain?

Arm pain causes vary widely, from injuries to serious health conditions that require immediate treatment.

Overuse injuries

One of the most common causes of arm pain is overuse. There are many different types of overuse conditions, including:

  • Bursitis: Bursitis is a condition that occurs when your bursae — fluid-filled sacs that provide cushioning between your muscles, bones and tissues — swell up, causing pain and discomfort.
  • Rotator cuff tear: A rotator cuff tear is a painful injury to your rotator cuff, a group of tendons and muscles that keep your shoulder joint stable. This type of tear causes shoulder pain and, at times, the inability to use your arm.
  • Tendonitis: Tendonitis (or tendinitis) is a painful condition that occurs when inflammation happens in the tendons between your bones and muscles. This can happen in many different sites, including your biceps (biceps tendonitis) and wrist (wrist tendonitis or de Quervain’s tendonitis).
  • Tennis elbow (lateral epicondylitis) or golfer’s elbow (medial epicondylitis): Either of these conditions can happen when you overload the tendons in your elbow. The condition can lead to inflammation, degeneration and tearing.

Traumatic injuries

Traumatic injuries to your arm can occur due to traumas like car accidents or falls.

  • Humerus fracture: A humerus fracture is when you break your upper arm bone (your humerus). If you fracture your humerus, you’ll have upper arm pain and you may need surgery.
  • Scaphoid fracture: A scaphoid fracture is a type of broken wrist. It occurs when you break your scaphoid bone, which is a small bone near the base of your thumb.
  • Smith fracture: A Smith fracture is another type of broken wrist. It can occur when you fall on your wrist when it’s bent inward toward your body.
  • Boxer’s fracture: A boxer’s fracture is a type of hand fracture. It occurs when you break the neck of your fifth metacarpal bone that connects your pinky finger to your wrist.

Other injuries

You can injure your arm in many other different ways, including:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when you compress the median nerve in your wrist, which can cause pain and numbness throughout your hand.
  • Sprains: Sprains are injuries that occur when you stretch or tear a ligament around a joint. You can sprain a ligament in your wrist, elbow or shoulder.
  • Brachial plexus injury: A brachial plexus injury occurs when you experience sudden damage to your brachial plexus, a nerve network that extends from your spinal cord in your neck down through your arms.


Arthritis is a painful condition that causes stiffness and inflammation in your joints. There are more than 100 types of arthritis, and many of them can affect your arms, wrists and hands.

  • Osteoarthritis: Osteoarthritis is a kind of arthritis that occurs when the cartilage that lines your joints starts to wear down, causing your bones to rub against each other.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis: Rheumatoid arthritis is a kind of arthritis that occurs when your immune system attacks the tissues lining your joints. It frequently affects your fingers, hands and wrists.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Psoriatic arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis. It’s associated with a skin condition called psoriasis.

Heart-related conditions

Arm pain, especially pain in your left arm, can sometimes come from heart-related conditions, like:

  • Angina: Angina is when you have chest pain because your heart needs more oxygen-rich blood. It can be a sign of a heart condition, like heart disease. Chest pain from angina can radiate to your arms.
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT): Deep vein thrombosis can occur when you have a blood clot in one of your deep veins. This can keep your blood from flowing correctly.
  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction): A heart attack occurs when blood flow to your heart stops or is lower than usual. This is a serious health condition that requires immediate medical attention.

Other conditions

Other conditions that can cause arm pain include:

  • Pinched nerve: A pinched nerve means surrounding tissues are compressing one of your nerves. It can cause pain, tinging and numbness in different areas of your body, including your arms.
  • Thoracic outlet syndrome: Thoracic outlet syndrome happens when something compresses the blood vessels or nerves in your upper chest or lower neck. This can radiate to your arms, causing upper arm pain.
  • Cervical disk herniation: A herniated disk is a tear or leak in one of the disks located between your vertebrae. When this occurs in your cervical spine (in your neck), it can lead to arm pain.
  • Shoulder impingement syndrome: If you have shoulder pain when lifting your arm, you may have shoulder impingement syndrome. With this condition, the top outer edge of your shoulder blade rubs against your rotator cuff underneath it.

Care and Treatment

How can I relieve arm pain?

If you have a mild case of arm pain, like pain from overuse, you can perform the RICE method. RICE stands for:

  • R — Rest: Rest your arm as much as you can.
  • I — Ice: Apply ice to the area for 15 minutes at a time.
  • C — Compression: Gently wrap your arm in a bandage.
  • E — Elevation: Elevate your arm above your heart.

You may also want to try gently stretching and massaging your arm muscles. Depending on your condition, you may want to try an over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication, like acetaminophen (Tylenol®), or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) (Advil®).

If you think you may have a fractured arm or wrist, you can try putting your arm in a splint to keep it still until you can get medical treatment. To relieve other types of arm pain, talk to your healthcare provider.

What are the possible complications or risks of not treating arm pain?

Arm pain can make it difficult for you to perform your usual daily activities. If the RICE method and OTC pain relievers don’t help with your pain, you should see your healthcare provider for treatment. If you don’t seek treatment, some causes of arm pain can lead to serious tissue damage that’ll require more extensive treatment like surgery down the line.


Can arm pain be prevented?

You can prevent some forms of arm pain by remembering to stretch your arm muscles before and after taking part in any physical activity. And try changing up the type of physical activity you get. If you’re performing the same motions over and over again, it can wear and tear at your arm muscles. A varied routine is less likely to lead to injury. Other ways you can prevent some types of arm pain include:

  • Practicing good posture: Try not to hunch your shoulders forward when standing or sitting. This can affect your neck and arm muscles, as well.
  • Taking breaks: When performing repetitive tasks that involve your arms, wrists and hands, make sure to get breaks in once in a while to reduce your risk of injury.
  • Relaxing your grip: When holding a handle, pencil or anything else, don’t grasp it harder than necessary to accomplish the task.
  • Keeping your hands warm: Wear gloves in cold temperatures and protect your hands when performing tasks that may put them at risk.

When To Call the Doctor

When should arm pain be treated by a healthcare provider?

Many forms of arm pain will go away with rest and an OTC pain reliever, but it’s important to see your healthcare provider or seek medical attention if you have:

  • Severe arm, shoulder or back pain that starts suddenly or occurs with chest pain or pressure. You may be having a heart attack. Seek immediate medical attention if you have heart attack arm pain.
  • An obvious injury to your arm, wrist or hand.
  • Arm, shoulder or back pain that worsens when you’re active and gets better with rest.
  • Severe arm pain and swelling.
  • Difficulty moving your arm the way you usually can.
  • Arm pain that doesn’t get better with at-home self-care.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

Arm pain is a common symptom that can have many different possible causes. It may be a mild pain that goes away with massage and pain medication. Or it may be serious, making it difficult for you to perform your usual activities. Pain in your arms can also be a sign of a significant health condition, like a heart attack. So, it’s important to take arm pain seriously. Seek immediate medical attention if you have any arm pain accompanied by chest pain or other symptoms of a heart attack.

Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 02/19/2024.

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