Covers problems like swelling or arm pain caused by overuse, arthritis, and hormone changes. Links to info on bursitis and osteoarthritis. Includes tool to help you decide when to call a doctor. Offers home treatment and prevention tips.
Arm Problems, Noninjury
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).
also occur after surgery to remove the lymph nodes under the arm following a
breast cancer or
melanoma. This is called
When an area turns blue, very pale, or cold, it can mean that there has been a sudden change in the blood
supply to the area. This can be serious.
There are other reasons
for color and temperature changes. Bruises often look blue. A limb may turn
blue or pale if you leave it in one position for too long, but its normal color
returns after you move it. What you are looking for is a change in how the area
looks (it turns blue or pale) and feels (it becomes cold to the touch), and
this change does not go away.
Seek Care Now
Based on your answers, you may need care right away. The problem is likely to get worse without medical care.
Call your doctor now to discuss the symptoms and
arrange for care.
If you cannot reach your doctor or you don't have
one, seek care in the next hour.
You do not need to call an
You cannot travel safely either by driving
yourself or by having someone else drive you.
You are in an area
where heavy traffic or other problems may slow you down.
Pain in children 3 years and older
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that the child can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep,
and can't do anything else except focus on the pain. No one can tolerate severe
pain for more than a few hours.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt the child's normal activities and
sleep, but the child can tolerate it for hours or days.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The child notices and may complain of the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt his or her sleep or activities.
Pain in adults and older children
Severe pain (8 to 10): The pain
is so bad that you can't stand it for more than a few hours, can't sleep, and
can't do anything else except focus on the pain.
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The pain is bad enough to disrupt your
normal activities and your sleep, but you can tolerate it for hours or days.
Moderate can also mean pain that comes and goes even if it's severe when it's
Mild pain (1 to 4): You notice the pain,
but it is not bad enough to disrupt your sleep or activities.
Pain in children under 3 years
It can be hard to tell how much pain a baby or toddler is in.
Severe pain (8 to 10): The
pain is so bad that the baby cannot sleep, cannot get comfortable, and cries
constantly no matter what you do. The baby may kick, make fists, or
Moderate pain (5 to 7): The baby is
very fussy, clings to you a lot, and may have trouble sleeping but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Mild pain (1 to 4): The baby is a little fussy and clings to you a little but responds
when you try to comfort him or her.
Many things can affect how your body responds to a symptom and what kind
of care you may need. These include:
Your age. Babies and older
adults tend to get sicker quicker.
Your overall health. If you have a condition such as diabetes, HIV, cancer, or heart
disease, you may need to pay closer attention to certain symptoms and seek care
Medicines you take. Certain
medicines, herbal remedies, and supplements can cause symptoms or make them
Recent health events, such as surgery
or injury. These kinds of events can cause symptoms afterwards or make them
Your health habits and lifestyle, such as eating and exercise habits, smoking, alcohol or drug
use, sexual history, and travel.
Certain health conditions and medicines weaken the immune system's ability to fight off infection and
illness. Some examples in adults are:
Diseases such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease,
Long-term alcohol and drug
Steroid medicines, which may be used to treat a variety
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy for
Other medicines used to treat autoimmune
Medicines taken after organ transplant.
having a spleen.
Symptoms of infection may
Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness in or
around the area.
Red streaks leading from the area.
Pus draining from the area.
Symptoms of a heart attack may
Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
Nausea or vomiting.
Pain, pressure, or a
strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly, or in one or both
shoulders or arms.
Lightheadedness or sudden
A fast or irregular heartbeat.
The more of these symptoms you have, the more likely it is that
you're having a heart attack. Chest pain or pressure is the most common
symptom, but some people, especially women, may not notice it as much as other
symptoms. You may not have chest pain at all but instead have shortness of breath, nausea, numbness,
tingling, or a strange feeling in your chest or other areas.
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.
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
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:
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.
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
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.