Muscle Pain in Upper Arm: Causes and Remedies

image001Upper arm muscle pain is characterized by mild to severe pain in the muscles between the shoulder and the elbow. It may last for a short time or even become a chronic problem. The arms are the most used body parts and they can be subjected to much pressure and strain. Such pain can also originate from other parts of the body such as the neck or even the heart. Its treatment therefore, depends on the cause.

Causes of Upper Arm Muscle Pain

Associated symptoms of upper arm muscle pain may differ depending on the causes, including dull ache, sharp or burning pain, swelling of the arm, bruises, difficulty flexing/bending the arm, persistent pain that worsens with movement or exercise and significant loss of strength. Pain on the left arm with chest pain and shortness of breath could indicate a heart attack. There are a number of reasons why the upper arm may become painful.

1. Trauma or Injury

One of the most common causes of severe upper arm pain is an injury to one or more of its parts. A fracture (broken bone) or a sprain in the arm due to a fall may result in extreme upper arm muscle pain. The symptom might not be experienced immediately but it may develop gradually as you move your arm. Treatment depends on the type of injury. Fractures need to be treated with a sling, a plaster cast, or surgery if needed.

2. Muscle Fatigue or Tension

The arms are often overused, so tension or muscle fatigue is the most likely cause of upper arm muscle pain. Muscle fatigue may be treated by resting the arm and applying cold compress. However, persistent pain must be referred to a healthcare provider.

3. Bursitis

Inflammation of the bursa or space between muscles and other soft tissues cause your upper arm to experience a deep aching pain. The pain worsens with movement of your shoulder or arm. The shoulder and arm may appear red, swollen, and warm. Treatment consists of rest, anti-inflammatory medications, and physical therapy.

4. Pinched Nerve

A nerve that is twisted, stretched, or pinched is another common cause of arm pain. This type of pain must be evaluated by a neurologist who may prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like naproxen or ibuprofen to reduce any swelling around your nerve. A physical therapist or chiropractor may also recommend exercises to reduce pressure around the nerves and to stretch out the muscles. If conservative treatments fail, surgery may be recommended to release a pinched nerve.

5. Bicipital Tendinitis

This condition occurs when a tendon near the shoulder is torn, resulting in severe pain in your upper arm, especially in the biceps muscle. Inflammation of the shoulder tendons and arm muscles may also occur due to lifting heavy weights in the gym. Over exercising is a common cause of muscle twitching in the upper arms. Rest, ice compress, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy are recommended. If pain persists for more than two months, consult an orthopedic doctor for definitive treatment.

6. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

When the median nerve in the wrist is compressed due to constant use of the arm and wrist, arm pain may occur. To treat CTS, the arm and wrist should rest and a wrist splint applied to support it and prevent bending. The pain may also be relieved with corticosteroid injections or surgery if the pain becomes unbearable.

7. Cervical Disc Herniation

Upper arm pain that is accompanied by numbness and tingling may be due to cervical disc herniation, which may result from spine injury or normal wear and tear of the disc due to ageing. This condition may be treated by rest, anti-inflammatory drugs, and physical therapy such as traction, exercises, and massage. Surgery is advised when extreme pain and arm weakness persist.

8. Fibromyalgia

This condition is characterized by unexplained pains and exhaustion, which affects muscles and joints. Women are more often affected, and it typically produces "tender points" on the shoulders and back of your arm near the elbows. The pain may radiate from these points towards the upper arm muscles.

9. Heart Attack

Upper arm muscle pain may be a symptom of a heart attack. The pain may be sudden and sharp although others describe it as a dull, aching pain. You might feel that the pain is from the arm muscles, but it may come from the joint or caused by irritation in the nerve endings. Unexplained pain in the upper arm that is not due to obvious factors like injury or overexertion may indicate an impending heart attack, so visit your doctor immediately. This is important especially when other symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or nausea are experienced.

Home Remedies for Upper Arm Muscle Pain

Knowing what causes your upper arm muscle pain and its treatment helps relieve this common problem. However, if pain persists or worsens, it is best to consult a doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment.

  • Ice Compress. Any kind of joint or muscle pain may be relieved by applying an ice compress or a heating pad. Place an ice pack on the injured area for 10 - 15 minutes at regular intervals to reduce inflammation and pain.
  • Rest. Rest your arm to reduce pain. You can elevate your upper arm to the level of your chest while resting it. Use some pillows to prop up your arm comfortably.
  • Exercise. You may not be able to avoid doing all the activities but you can go slowly by spreading your tasks out. Take breaks between tasks and avoid putting too much strain on the arm. When pain and inflammation are reduced, you can start gentle exercises to resume normal function of the arm.