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What are the Most Common Causes of Upper Arm Pain?

By Susan Grindstaff
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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The most common causes of upper arm pain are considered to be muscle fatigue and tendinitis. Neither of these conditions is considered serious, and they often clear up within a few days. In some instances, pain in the upper arm results from a condition called referred pain. Referred pain is pain experienced in one part of the body, while the cause of the pain actually comes from an entirely different location. Sudden, intense pain in the upper arm can sometimes signal serious heart conditions, and may indicate that a heart attack is imminent.

Muscle fatigue usually results from overworking muscles and tendons within a certain muscle group. It can happen after performing one extremely strenuous task, or it can be the result of repeated overuse. Upper arm pain caused by muscle fatigue is usually related to work or sports. People who have jobs that require a lot of lifting or involve stretching the arms above the head may be more at risk for this type of fatigue. Often, a few days of resting the muscles will relieve the symptoms.

Bicipital tendinitis is a type of tendinitis that afflicts muscles in the upper arm and shoulder, and is caused by tears or worn places in tendons. People who suffer from this condition usually experience upper arm pain, and in addition, the area is usually sore to the touch. Treatment for bicipital tendinitis usually involves applications of ice and restriction of movement. Anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen may also be necessary for pain relief. The length of time for rehabilitation depends on the degree of the injury, with some suffers recovering in a few days while others may take weeks to see improvement.

Some people suffer instances of bicipital tendinitis repeatedly. For these individuals, sometimes more aggressive therapy is necessary. Chronic tendinitis is often much more painful and may require direct injections of steroids to quickly treat inflammation. In addition, chronic sufferers may need to undergo physical therapy or surgery to see an improvement in their condition.

Upper arm pain, especially in the left arm, sometimes signals a heart attack. This type of pain is described as a radiating pain that usually begins in the shoulder and moves all the way down the arm. The pain is usually sudden, though in some cases it may begin as a soreness that gradually gets worse. In either case, if it is heart attack related, the pain normally occurs within hours or minutes of the attack itself. Upper arm pain related to heart attack usually involves other symptoms such as sweating and dizziness.

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Discussion Comments
By fify — On Aug 06, 2013

I have chronic tendinitis in my arm. It heals and then it returns after several months. I'm trying to keep the pain under control with cold compresses and anti-inflammatory medication.

By literally45 — On Aug 06, 2013

@MikeMason-- You have upper arm pain and weakness right? The same thing happened to me last year.

It's sort of like wrist drop, except that the issue is in the arm and not the wrist. Basically, a nerve in the arm becomes compressed because of being in the same position for a long time. It heals on its own and just requires rest, but depending on how bad it is, it can take a while. It took about a month for my arm pain to go away.

You might want to consider wearing a sling. Changing your posture and working at a different workstation might help too.

If the pain doesn't go away though, and if you have trouble moving your arm and shoulder due to weakness, you need to see a doctor. Sometimes physical therapy can be necessary.

By stoneMason — On Aug 05, 2013

I think I have muscle fatigue. I've been dealing with shoulder and upper arm pain for the past few days. First I thought that I injured it, but I hadn't done anything out of the ordinary. And then I realized that the pain gets worse after I work at my desk.

I'm constantly holding my right arm up on the desk while I work on the computer for typing and using the mouse. I think keeping my arm in an unnatural position like that everyday has caused muscle fatigue. I'm trying to change positions more frequently and I stop using the computer as soon as my work's done so that my arm can rest. I hope the pain goes away soon.

Has this happened to anyone? How did you treat it and prevent it from happening again?

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