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What are Common Causes of Arm Pain and Weakness?

By Dorothy Bland
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Arm pain and weakness do not always have to originate in the arm. Often the pain originates in the wrist. For instance, both carpal tunnel syndrome and a broken wrist can cause a feeling of general weakness and send pain radiating up the arm. In actuality, there are numerous potential causes of pain and weakness in the arm. Some of the most likely culprits include overuse, acute injuries, and arthritis.

Often, arm pain and weakness is a result of a minor injury such as overuse of the arm through manual labor. Repetitive motions localized to the arm and wrists, for example, cause tennis elbow. Exercise also has the ability to cause an arm injury when a move is done incorrectly or if the arm is under too much strain. For example, an individual attempting to lift a heavy weight when out of condition could strain a muscle. Over-lifting by wearing hefty backpacks or purses or attempting to move heavy furniture could also be the culprit.

Acute arm injuries, including shoulder separations, shoulder dislocations, and a broken arm can be caused by sharp blows or hard falls. These types of injuries can occur in all age groups, but tend to show up more frequently in children and those who participate in contact sports. Elderly individuals may also be more susceptible due to decreased bone mass and density. Some older adults also have eye weakness that can make it more difficult to see objects in their path or impede their balance, increasing the chances of an arm injury occurring.

Arthritis is another common factor in arm weakness and pain. The condition can be caused by inflammation in the joints or wear and tear due to cartilage degeneration. In some cases, arthritis in the arm can develop after an injury. Usually, joint pain and weakness will present with swelling and limited shoulder mobility. Other common conditions such as tendinitis and bursitis can also be caused by arthritis.

When these symptoms are the result of a minor injury, they can often be treated through home care. Over-the-counter medications can ease pain, while ice can provide relief from soreness; compression and elevation are also useful to reduce swelling. Using correct posture so the shoulders do not slump, taking frequent breaks when doing repetitive activities, and wearing a seat belt might also be useful for preventing re-injury.

In certain situations, arm pain and weakness requires prompt medical attention. For instance, if right arm pain and weakness occurs along with an uncomfortable pressure or squeezing pain in the chest region, a heart attack could be occurring and emergency medical assistance is likely needed. When arm pain is accompanied by severe pain, swelling, a visibly protruding bone, or immobility in the arm, a prompt visit to the doctor’s office is also recommended. Prompt treatment is also necessary if pain and weakness occur after a car accident, fall, or other physical trauma and are accompanied by a popping or cracking sound in the arm.

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Discussion Comments
By stoneMason — On Nov 10, 2013

I get these symptoms sometimes because of fibromyalgia. People with fibromyalgia often have mineral deficiencies, especially calcium, magnesium and potassium. I have them too. If I don't take supplements regularly, I get cramps in my arms, followed by pain and weakness. It's very unpleasant.

Sometimes, the medications I use for fibromyalgia cause muscle and joint pain too.

By candyquilt — On Nov 10, 2013

@burcinc-- It's probably just arm muscle pain and weakness from overuse. Have you done arm exercises recently, carried something heavy or slept on your arm?

All of these can cause arm pain and weakness. But it's temporary and your arm should feel better in a few days. I think that if you had dislocated it, you would know. The pain would be unbearable.

Try not to use your arm too much so that muscles can rest and recover. Cold packs might be helpful. If your arm doesn't improve tomorrow or the day after though, you need to see a doctor. Don't wait until tomorrow to see a doctor if you develop swelling, more pain or numbness.

By burcinc — On Nov 09, 2013

What causes sudden upper arm pain and weakness?

I've been having upper arm pain for two days. My arm feels very weak and it hurts when I move it. I feel like I've lost control over my arm muscles. Could it be dislocated?

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