The 7 reasons for pain in your arm – and when it's a medical emergency

THERE are many reasons why your arm might hurt.

Often it isn't anything to be too worried about, but sometimes it is a red flag you need medical help immediately.

Dr Sarah Jarvis, GP and Clinical Director of Patient Access, told the Sun Online: "There are numerous causes of arm pain.

"Sometimes it’s due to nerve problems – a pinched nerve in the neck, or pressure on one of the nerves in the arm.

"Sometimes it’s due to inflammation of the tough tendon sheath connecting muscles to bone – for instance, at the elbow in so-called tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow.

"Muscle strains and sprains are also a common cause."

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Here are seven common reasons why you might have arm pain…

Angina/Heart attack

Angina is less serious than a heart attack, but has similar symptoms.

It is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscles. It's not usually life threatening, but it's a warning sign that you could be at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

A heart attack is a serious medical emergency in which the supply of blood to the heart is suddenly blocked, usually by a blood clot.

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If you think you are experiencing a heart attack you need to get to hospital for treatment as quickly as possible.

Dr Jarvis said: "Arm pain on its own as a symptom of heart attack is much less common.

"Angina or a heart attack often lead to central crushing chest pain (which may go into the jaw, the neck or the arm, most commonly the left arm).

"Other symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath and feeling sick.

"Sometimes sudden, persistent pain in the left arm which comes on for no obvious reason can be a symptom of a heart attack, even without other symptoms."

Muscle sprain

Sprains and strains are common injuries affecting the muscles and ligaments.

If you cannot use the arm normally or have pain, tenderness or weakness around your wrist or thumb you likely have a sprain.

Other telltale signs include spasms or cramping, which is when your muscles painfull tighten on their own.

Most can be treated at home without seeing a GP, but if it doesn't clear up within a few weeks do get a check up.


Tendonitis is when a tendon swells (becomes inflamed) after a tendon injury.

It can cause joint pain and stiffness and is commonly felt in the arm, often from playing certain sports.

You can treat mild tendon injuries yourself and should feel better withintwo to three weeks.

Dr Jarvis added: "Tennis elbow and golfer’s elbow are almost always made worse by certain movements and improve with rest.

"You’re likely to feel tenderness and sometimes swelling at the site of the pain. The same applies to muscle strain."


If you think you have a broken bone in your arm you need immediate medical help.

Any possible breaks need to be treated as soon as possible – and it's not always clear if it's a break or strain so it's best to get it checked by an expert.

You must get to A&E if:

  • the affected arm or wrist is numb, is tingling or has pins and needles
  • you have a bad cut that is bleeding heavily
  • a bone is sticking out of your skin
  • your arm or wrist has changed shape or is at an odd angle

Try to keep keep it supported in a sling, remove any jewellery, take paracetamol for any pain, use an icepack for swelling. Do not try to use the arm.

Rotator cuff injury

The rotator cuff is the muscles and tendons which surround the shoulder.

Injuries here are common, and often get better with rest and therapy.

Symptoms include arm pain when the limb is away from the body or overhead, you might have more pain at night and weakness in the shoulder.

Most cases get better on their own but some do require surgery.

Herniated disk

A slipped disc is when a soft cushion of tissue between the bones in your spine pushes out.

It's painful if it presses on nerves, but usually gets better slowly with rest, gentle exercise and painkillers.

It can cause numbness or tingling in your shoulders, back, arms, hands, legs or feet, and also neck pain.

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