Severe arm pain can be uncomfortable for many people and get in the way of their ability to perform the tasks required to live their day-to-day lives. To make matters worse, arm pain can result from a wide variety of potential medical problems, including pinched nerves or injured joints. Arm pain can have a quick, sudden onset, or may appear slowly over time, growing from a small ache to a never-ending sear. While some types of arm pain require immediate emergency treatment, others are treatable with home remedies or simple visits to a doctor. Quite often, arm pain results from an issue with your spine, upper neck, or even your heart.
This article offers an overview of symptoms that severe arm pain may accompany, some of the potential underlying causes, and the best treatment methods to alleviate some of the pain. Before getting into common arm pain causes and their treatments, however, also included is information for when you should absolutely see a doctor.
When to Seek Emergency Treatment
Some types of arm pain may be more serious and potentially life-threatening than others. These may require immediate emergency treatment, as they could indicate a disorder or condition which acts rapidly. These can include:
- Pain in your arm, shoulder, or back that is unusually powerful, happens suddenly and occurs with squeezing fullness, or pressure in your chest. These could all be signs of a heart attack and require immediate medical attention.
- An obvious problem in your arm or wrist, including a protruding bone or another deformity. If bleeding or other injuries are also present, time can be of the essence.
If either of these symptoms occurs, call an ambulance or have someone take you to the Emergency Room as fast as possible. These symptoms often require immediate medical attention because of their intense onsets and the speed with which they can cause harm.
When to See Your Doctor Right Away
Other types of arm pain may not be serious enough for an immediate trip to the Emergency Room, but the pain may still be serious enough to require a doctor’s visit as soon as possible. These symptoms could indicate underlying issues that, if not treated, could lead to more serious problems. Symptoms that require a doctor’s visit can include:
- Pain in the arm, shoulder, or back that occurs any time you exert yourself but then dissipates once you rest. This pattern can potentially signal heart disease or chest problems caused by angina, reduced blood flow to your heart.
- Intense pain and swelling in the arm.
- A severe and sudden arm injury, especially if you hear a cracking, popping, or snapping sound.
- Difficulty moving your arm normally, or trouble rotating your arm from palm up to palm down.
If you experience any of these problems, see your doctor as soon as you can get in. If your symptoms don’t match those listed above, feel free to read on to find some of the most effective treatments for arm pain.
Symptoms of Severe Arm Pain
Again, if your arm symptoms are not similar to the symptoms mentioned in the two categories above, then you may find relief from severe arm pain in these treatment options. Otherwise, be sure to contact medical support immediately.
Here are some symptoms of more traditional severe arm pain, and the potential diagnosis for each. After covering these more general symptoms, the treatment options will follow and offer ways for you to mitigate your pain.
Sprain or Strain
A muscle injury (strain) or a ligament injury (sprain) can cause your arm to hurt, inducing symptoms like pain, bruising, weakness, swelling, and muscle spasms. These don’t necessarily require a doctor unless the symptoms are severe. With proper pain management, both sprains and strains should heal on their own accord.
Inflamed tendons in your arm and shoulder result in a condition called tendinitis, which can cause pain in your shoulder, wrist, or elbow. Tendinitis is often caused by overusing your arm, so taking it easy and restricting the use of your arm is your best bet.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Performing the same movements continuously with your wrist can cause nerve damage in your hand and resulting in eventual arm pain, including numbness, weakness, and tingling. If you’re able to take a break from the repeated action, the treatments below should be able to bring your arm back to fighting shape within a few weeks.
If your arm pain begins right after you physically injure yourself, there’s a good chance you may have fractured the bone. If the pain is accompanied by bruising, swelling, weakness, or numbness, you may want to see your doctor for faster healing. However, the treatment options below are helpful to use before you can get to a doctor.
If you experience severe arm pain that doesn’t qualify for the above definitions as a medical emergency, there are a number of treatment methods to help reduce swelling, tenderness, and pain in your arm. While most types of severe arm pain get better on their own with enough time and relaxation, these treatments can both speed up the healing process and alleviate pain throughout. You may find one or two methods that work especially well for you, or perhaps you’ll find three or more that work efficiently in combination. As always, finding what works best for your own pain management is preferred, as long as it’s approved by your doctor as well.
For severe arm pain, one of the most effective treatment methods is known as “RICE.” The acronym stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. This method helps reduce swelling, ease the pain, and prevent problems from further development. First, RICE advises you to rest, staying off your feet, relaxing on the couch, and keeping your arm from performing any heavy lifting at all. Then, add ice. The cool temperature can numb the pain and reduce any swelling. For this step, you can use an ice pack, frozen gel pack, or frozen vegetables. Doctors often recommend the vegetables because of the ease with which it can form to your arm’s shape. Next, compress the arm with a bandage or gauze to restrict the blood flow. Finally, elevate your arm on several pillows to keep it above your heart and lessen the blood flow. The RICE method is especially effective when combined with anti-inflammatory drugs and casual exercise.
Change the Temperature
As the RICE method indicates, cold packs can be especially helpful for lowering inflammation and numbing the pain. However, alternating temperatures can be equally effective for pain management. You should use cold for the first 48 to 72 hours after the onset of your arm pain. But after that, you’re able to add heat into the mix. Heat soothes stiff joints, relaxes tight muscles, and relieves pain. There are a number of effective and easy ways to apply heat. Whether through a warm bath, a heating pad, or a hot towel. When you alternate cold and hot treatments, keep the compress on for twenty minutes, then off for twenty minutes. And repeat as often as you like. Your arm muscles will thank you for the full temperature massage.
Keep Your Body Active
As RICE dictates, rest is important when you’re trying to alleviate arm pain. However, try not to rest too much. Keeping your arm stagnant and unmoving can cause the muscles to weaken and may actually increase the pain. Instead, try maintaining a balance of light activity and relaxation. Look into the Egoscue method of physical therapy. Cardio and stretching can help strengthen your arm muscles, as long as you don’t overdo it. Lightweight training can help as well. Cardio work can help your heart keep pumping and oxygen flowing throughout your body. There are also numerous types of cardio workouts, including swimming, running, water aerobics, elliptical machines, and stationary cycling. If you have questions about which methods may be best for your arm pain, always check with your doctor or a physical therapist.
Arms are one of the most useful appendages on the body, but it’s important not to overuse them. Whether it’s lifting objects repeatedly, playing sports, or even playing a musical instrument, you should be careful you don’t overextend yourself. Sure, when doing a light workout or a little golf, it’s fine to use your arm and keep it active. But be sure not to overdo it.
Take Pain Medication
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen or naxopren can be a lifesaver. These medications reduce swelling while easing the pain on your swollen or tender arm. Taking these pills can be a great way to ease your arm’s pain to prepare for a light workout. However, always be sure to follow the instructions on the label.
Treating severe arm pain isn’t nearly as difficult as it might seem. Many of these treatment options work best when paired together. As their combined effects balance off one another for more effective healing processes. Of course, if your symptoms aren’t dissipating, or if you have any questions or doubts, please contact a medical professional immediately.
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