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Understanding upper arm pain

Have you ever asked yourself the question, ‘Why does my arm hurt?’ There are many different conditions that can cause pain in the upper arm and at Life Ready Physio, we can help you with your pain.

The upper arm is classified as the bone and muscle between the shoulder joint and the elbow. In this region there is the primary bone called the humerus, tendons, muscles, nerves and ligaments and all of these can be a source of pain and discomfort.


Here are some reasons as to why your upper arm might be sore:

Trauma, such as a fall onto the arm, can lead to contusions or fractures that are typically managed by a medical professional and a physiotherapist. These are often very painful and result in an immediate loss of function and mobility in the arm. If you have had a fall and are experiencing lots of pain, you should seek medical treatment as soon as possible.

Muscular strains in the biceps, triceps, brachialis or coracobrachialis from overuse or physical exertion can lead to muscular pain and discomfort. Rotator cuff strains in the shoulder joint can also cause pain extending into the arm and is what’s known as “referred pain”.

Shoulder injuries such as, but not limited to, subacromial impingement or bursitis can also cause upper arm pain by the means of referred pain, as described above. Subacromial impingement and bursitis are caused by poor motor control from the rotator cuff and/or poor mobility in the shoulder joint that sensitises the structures in the area, thus causing pain and can commonly refer into the arm.

Elbow pain, much like shoulder injuries, can also refer pain up into the arm. This is often due to irritated tendons in the forearm muscles in conditions such as tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.

Neck pain can also give rise to upper arm pain. This can also be caused by the referred pain mechanism we have discussed in shoulder and elbow pain above. However, neck pain can be associated with the sensitisation of the nerves, that start from the spinal cord and travel out of the neck and extend into arm all the way into the tips of the fingers. Nerve pain symptoms tend to be associated with pins and needles, burning, shooting, tingling and numbness. Arm pain arising from the neck can also be known as a radiculopathy or nerve root impingement.

A heart attack can also give rise to arm pain and is a medical emergency and requires intervention ASAP. Symptoms include chest pain or discomfort, nausea, sweating, dizziness or lightheadedness, fatigue, shortness of breath and also arm, jaw or upper back pain. If you are experiencing these symptoms, rest immediately, tell someone how you are feeling and call 000.


How is upper arm pain managed?

As you can see, there are many different things that lead to upper arm pain. So if there is no trauma and it is not a medical emergency, your local Life Ready physiotherapist can guide you through the minefield that is upper arm pain. Some hands-on physiotherapy, as well as a home exercise program and the guidance from your physio, will get you back on track in no time.


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