Pain in the Left Arm

1 Pain in the Left Arm Summary

Pain or soreness in any part between shoulder and wrist of the left arm is considered as left arm pain. It is more common in middle-aged women, although it may occur in men of any age group. It is quiet alarming for anybody as it is always considered as a symptom of a heart problem.

Pain may be localized or radiating to other parts like neck, spine or chest. Pain may be unilateral, affecting only left arm, or bilateral, affecting both arms. Pain may be acute or chronic. Acute pain has a sudden onset and lasts for a short duration, while the chronic pain has a gradual onset and lasts for more than three months.

The pain may be progressive and debilitating in some people. The intensity or severity of pain also varies, ranging from mild, dull pain to sharp, shooting pain. Severe pain with sudden onset requires medical attention.

One should see a physician immediately if the pain is caused by exercise and resolves with rest. If one is suspecting pain due to a broken arm, medical attention is warranted. Fever, reddishness, swelling, and warmth in the arm associated with general weakness also indicates doctor’s visit as it may be due to infection.

Left arm pain may be caused by factors that affect any of the tissues in the arm, including tendons, ligaments, nerves, bones, muscles, and blood vessels. Issues of tissues outside the arm like shoulder, neck, and chest may also lead to pain in the left arm.

Some of the causes of pain in the left arm include:

  • Poor circulation – constriction of a blood vessel in the arm that leads to poor circulation is one of the causes of pain and soreness in the left arm.
  • Poor posture – improper posture during walking, standing, sitting, and sleeping may also lead to pain.
  • Stress – extreme stress is found to be associated with pain in the left arm, particularly in women.
  • Injuries and overuse – heavy physical activity using the arm or injury can cause sprain and pain in the left arm. This includes tendinitis, rotator cuff injury, broken arm, and left brachial plexus injury.
  • Angina – lack of enough oxygen to the heart muscles causes angina. It produces a burning or squeezing sensation in the chest followed by pain in the left arm.
  • Heart attack – heart attack is caused by deprivation of oxygen in heart muscles. Left arm pain is one of the symptoms of this condition.
  • Other causes – other causes include certain medications, mastectomy, hiatal hernia, pinched nerve, rheumatoid arthritis, strains, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, and dislocated elbow.

If the symptoms are associated with heart attack, immediate medical attention is required. Evaluation of the history of the current condition, review of medical history and physical examination help in identifying the probable causes of the condition.

Electrocardiogram is one of the most common tests recommended to diagnose cardiac abnormalities if any. Other tests and investigations are based on the suspected cause of pain. Imaging tests like x-rays, CT scan, and MRI are useful in visualizing the inner parts of the left arm.

Treatment also varies with the underlying cause of pain. Heart conditions are treated with lifestyle changes, medications, and symptomatic relief. Severe conditions may require surgical repair like bypass surgery.

Broken bones are packed together and immobilized for healing. Pain caused by sprain or strain is treated by rest and elevation. Bandages and splints are also used in some cases.

2 Causes

There are many possible causes for pain in the left arm, some of them are: 

Heart attack – heart attack or myocardial infarction is caused when muscles of the heart are deprived of oxygen. Poor circulation of oxygen and nutrients cause cell death in the muscles. This may be caused by blocks, clots, or spasm in arteries. One of the most common symptoms of heart attack is chest pain that radiates to other parts including shoulders, jaws, and arms. It may be accompanied by other symptoms like sweating, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting.

Angina – angina is characterized by a heavy sensation in the chest. Some people describe it as a burning or squeezing in the chest. This condition is caused by a reduction in the flow of blood and oxygen supply to the heart muscles. Pain due to angina is also felt in the chest but may radiate to jaws, shoulders, and left arm.

Stress – extreme stress leads to a panic attack that is felt like a pain in the chest. Sweating, palpitations, and chest heaviness are also noted along with pain in the left arm. It is often misdiagnosed as angina or heart attack due to the pressure in the chest.

Injuries and overuse – injuries and overuse of the parts on the left side may lead to pain in the arm. This is caused by:

  • Mastectomy – mastectomy or breast removal surgery in women who have breast cancer may lead to left arm pain.
  • Left plexus brachial injury – overstretching may injure the nerve network in the arm, leading to pain. Some of these injuries may heal on its own, while others may need surgical repair.
  • Broken arm – fracture to arm, wrist, or hand may lead to pain. This is a serious condition and needs medical attention.
  • Strains/ Sprains – contact sports and other strenuous activities may cause strain or sprain of muscles in the arm. Overstretching of ligaments causes sprains while tearing or injury of muscles or tendons results in strain.
  • Rotator cuff injury – rotator cuff muscles are the muscle group that stabilizes the shoulder. Injury to this muscle group may lead to pain in the arm and shoulder.
  • Tendinitis – tendinitis refers to the inflammation of tendons in the arm. This results from injury or repeated use of the muscles in the arm. Tendinitis is also implicated in left arm pain.

Poor circulation – constriction of blood vessels due to injury, clots, diseases, nutritional deficiency, and certain medications reduce the supply of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles leading to pain and soreness in the arm.

Improper posture – poor posture while sitting, or sleeping may also lead to pain in the left arm. It is one of the most common causes of pain in left arm.

Certain medications – certain medications are known to cause left arm pain as one of the side effects.

Pinched nerve – pinched nerve is caused by too much pressure on a nerve by the surrounding tissue. Pinched nerve in the wrist may lead to pain in the arm.

Some other causes of left arm pain include a hiatal hernia, carpal tunnel syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, and bursitis.

3 Diagnosis and Treatment

If left arm pain is associated any of the warning signs, as mentioned above, medical attention is required. During a visit, the doctor may evaluate the history of the current condition, the medical history of the patient, and the associated signs and symptoms.

During an emergency condition, an electrocardiogram is the most common test recommended to check the functioning of the heart. An intravenous line is put to administer medication and fluids.

Other diagnostic tests and investigations mentioned are based on the probable cause of the condition. Imaging techniques like x-ray, CT scan, and MRI are recommended based on the underlying cause of the condition.

Treatment also varies with the cause of left arm pain. Healthy lifestyle modifications and medications are recommended for heart problems. Surgery is suggested for a severe form of heart disease.

Bypass surgery is used to remove blocks in the arteries. If the pain is caused by broken bones, positioning and immobilization are helpful. A Severe form of fractures may need surgical repair.

Pain killers are suggested to reduce pain in the arm. Sprains and strains are treated with rest, ice packs, compression, and elevation. Bandages and splints are useful in controlling pain in these conditions.

Physical therapy, rest, and medications are recommended for many a cause. This includes herniated disk, pinched nerve, bursitis, rotator cuff injury, and tendinitis. In some cases, corticosteroids are recommended to reduce pain. 

Circulation to the arm can be improved by having a healthy diet and regularly exercising. Massaging the arm before sleeping and avoiding caffeine and alcohol also may be of help. Improving posture during sleep can prevent pinching of the nerve that leads to left arm pain.

Relaxation techniques are useful in reducing stress, one of the most important causes of pain in the arm. If the pain is caused by prescription drugs, stopping or reducing the dose on a recommendation by a doctor may be of help. Home care will also help in dealing with the pain. Giving adequate rest and compression aids in alleviating pain due to different reasons.

In most of the cases, the pain resolves within few days with simple home treatment. Some issues may take a longer duration for the pain to subside. If the person has a history of heart diseases, medical attention is immediately required when left arm is paining.

When left untreated, bursitis, rotator cuff injuries, and tendinitis may lead to complications like frozen shoulder. Early diagnosis and treatment are important in preventing complications in these cases. Bone fracture is also a serious condition as it may not resolve on its own and requires repair.

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