Minor arm problems, such as sore muscles, are
common. Symptoms often develop from everyday wear and tear or overuse. Arm
problems may be minor or serious and may include symptoms such as pain,
swelling, cramps, numbness, tingling, weakness, or changes in temperature or
Older adults have a greater chance of having arm problems,
because they lose muscle mass as they age. Children may have arm problems
because they are usually more active than adults and their bones and muscles
are growing more quickly. They may also have arm problems for the same reasons
Your arm problem may be caused by sports or hobbies,
work-related tasks, and work or projects around the home. Arm problems can also
be caused by injuries. If you think your arm problem is caused by an injury,
see the topic
It may be helpful to know the structure of the arm
to better understand arm problems. Common arm problems that are not
caused by a specific injury, such as a blow or fall, include the
- Overuse or repetitive-motion injuries occur when
you "overdo" an activity or repeat the same activity. The repeated activity may
stress joints or other tissues and cause pain and swelling. This is called an
overuse injury, even though no obvious injury occurred. For example, you may
have shoulder pain from throwing a ball or raking leaves. Overuse injuries
Carpal tunnel syndrome is another example of an
- Joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are common with
Osteoarthritis (also called degenerative joint
disease) is the most common type of arthritis. Less common types include
rheumatoid arthritis and
- Swelling of the hands and arms can
be caused by hormone changes, such as those that occur during pregnancy or with
premenstrual syndrome (PMS).
- Swelling may
also occur after surgery to remove the lymph nodes under the arm following a
breast cancer or
melanoma. This is called
- Arm problems can occur as
symptoms of other more serious problems, such as
transient ischemic attack (TIA), or
stroke. Sometimes the first
symptom of a heart attack is pain in the left
Most minor arm problems will usually get better on their own.
Home treatment may be all that is needed to relieve symptoms and promote
Check your symptoms to decide if and when
you should see a doctor.
If your arm problem does not
require an evaluation by a doctor, you may be able to use home treatment to
help relieve pain, swelling, stiffness, or muscle cramps.
Home treatment for arm pain, swelling, or stiffness
- Rest and protect a stiff
or sore area. Stop, change, or take a break from any activity that may be
causing your pain or soreness.
- Ice will
reduce pain and swelling. Apply
ice or cold packs immediately to prevent or minimize swelling. Apply the ice
or cold pack for 10 to 20 minutes, 3 or more times a day.
- For the first 48 hours, avoid things that
might increase swelling, such as hot showers, hot tubs, hot packs, and alcoholic
- After 48 to 72 hours, if swelling is gone, apply
heat and begin
gentle exercise with the aid of moist heat to help
restore and maintain flexibility. Some experts recommend alternating between
heat and cold treatments.
- Compression, or wrapping
the sore area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap), will help decrease
swelling. Don't wrap it too tightly, since this can cause more swelling below the
affected area. Loosen the bandage if it gets too tight. Signs that the bandage
is too tight include numbness, tingling, increased pain, coolness, or swelling
in the area below the bandage. Talk to your doctor if you think you need to use
a wrap for longer than 48 to 72 hours; a more serious problem may be
- Elevate the painful area on pillows
while applying ice and anytime you are sitting or lying down. Try to keep the
area at or above the level of your heart to help minimize
- Remove rings , bracelets, watches, or any other jewelry
from your hand and arm. It will be more difficult to remove the jewelry later
if swelling increases. Swelling without removal of jewelry can cause other
serious problems, such as compression of nerves or restriction of blood
- Wear a
sling if it makes you more comfortable and supports
the area. If you feel you need to use a sling for more than 48 hours, discuss
your symptoms with your doctor.
- Gently massage or rub the area to
relieve pain and encourage blood flow. Do not massage the area if it causes
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking slows
healing because it decreases blood supply and delays tissue repair. For more
information, see the topic
Home treatment for muscle cramps
- Gently stretch the cramping
- If you do not have swelling, you may rub or gently massage
- If you think your muscle cramps are brought on by
exercise, heat, or dehydration, drink some extra water. If available, drink an
electrolyte replacement drink (such as Gatorade or Pedialyte)
diluted with water to half strength. These drinks will help replace sugar,
salt, and other minerals. Be sure to read and follow any label warnings. Avoid
drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol.
- Move your arms and flex your fingers and hands. Gentle motion
may help with cramps brought on by exercise.
- Make sure you are
getting enough minerals such as
magnesium. Most people get enough minerals eating a
normal variety of foods. Talk with your doctor about taking extra
Medicine you can buy without a prescription
| Try a nonprescription
medicine to help treat your fever or pain:|
- Acetaminophen, such as
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs):
- Ibuprofen, such as Advil or
- Naproxen, such as Aleve or Naprosyn
- Aspirin (also a nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drug), such as Bayer or Bufferin
Talk to your child's doctor before switching back and
forth between doses of acetaminophen and ibuprofen. When you switch between two
medicines, there is a chance your child will get too much medicine.
| Be sure to follow these
safety tips when you use a nonprescription medicine:|
- Carefully read and follow all directions
on the medicine bottle and box.
- Do not take more than the
- Do not take a medicine if you have had an
allergic reaction to it in the past.
you have been told to avoid a medicine, call your doctor before you take
- If you are or could be pregnant, do not take any medicine other
than acetaminophen unless your doctor has told you to.
- Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless your doctor tells you to.
Symptoms to watch for during home treatment
Call your doctor if any of the following occur during home
- You are unable to use your arm
- Signs of infection develop.
tingling; or cool, pale skin develops.
- Symptoms become more frequent or more severe.
The following tips may prevent arm
General prevention tips
- Warm up well and stretch before any activity.
Stretch after exercise to keep hot muscles from shortening and
- Drink extra water before and during exercise, or drink an
electrolyte replacement drink (such as a sports drink) after exercise, especially
during hot or humid weather.
- Use the correct movements and
positions during activities so that you do not strain your
- Use equipment that is right for your size, strength, and
- Try not to overuse your arm doing repeated movements that
can cause an injury. In your daily routines or when doing hobbies, think about how
often you make repeated arm movements. Try to find other ways of using your
- Take lessons to learn how to do sports correctly. Have a
trainer or person who is familiar with the sport check your gear to make sure
it is right for your level of ability, body size, and body
- If you think that something you do at work is causing
pain or soreness from overuse, call your human resources department for
information on other ways of doing your job or to discuss equipment
modifications or other job assignments.
Keep bones strong
- Eat healthy foods such as milk, cheese, yogurt,
and dark green, leafy vegetables like broccoli. For more information, see the
- Exercise and stay active.
Talk to your doctor about an exercise program that is right for you. Begin
slowly, especially if you have been inactive. For more information, see the
- Don't drink more than 2 alcoholic
drinks a day if you are a man, or 1 alcoholic drink a day if you are a woman.
Drinking alcohol increases your chances of having weak bones (osteoporosis). It also increases your chances of
- Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. Smoking
increases your chances of having osteoporosis. It also causes problems with the
blood supply in your arms and slows healing. For more information, see the
To prepare for your appointment, see the topic Making the Most of Your Appointment.
You can help your
doctor diagnose and treat your condition by being prepared to answer the
- What are your main symptoms?
- How long
have you had your symptoms?
- When did you first notice your
symptoms? What were you doing when the symptoms started?
- Have you
had a problem like this before? When? How was it treated? Did the problem go
away completely, or do you have ongoing problems?
- Does anyone else
in your family have a problem like this?
- What activities, related
to sports, work, or your lifestyle, make your symptoms better or
- Do you think that activities related to your job or hobbies
caused your symptoms?
- What home treatment have you tried? Did it
- What prescription and nonprescription medicines have you
tried? Did they help?
- Do you use alcohol or illegal drugs to make
your arm feel better?
- Do you have any
- Animal and Human Bites
- Bruises and Blood Spots Under the Skin
- Burns and Electric Shock
- Puncture Wounds
|By: ||Healthwise Staff ||Current as of: June 3, 2013|
|Medical Review: ||William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine|
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine