Elbow, Shoulder, and Arm Pain Causes and Conditions
Arm pain can result from injuries, inflammation or illnesses that develop in the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones or nerves of the arm. Pain felt in the arm can also originate from a problem in another area of the body, such as the upper spine, the neck or the heart. Tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome and bursitis are all common arm pain causes and conditions, along with reflex sympathetic dystrophy and chronic regional pain syndrome.
Inflammation Conditions that Cause Arm Pain
The bursae are fluid-filled sacs surrounding the joints that help your tendons, ligaments and bones move together smoothly. The shoulder and elbow are two of the more common sites for bursitis, which develops when the bursae become inflamed. Bursitis causes pain, swelling and sometimes redness or stiffness at the inflammation site. Arthritis, another condition associated with inflammation, can cause symptoms similar to those of bursitis in any of the joints of the arm.
Tendinitis causes arm pain due to inflammation in the tendons in the joints of the shoulder, elbow or wrist. Tennis elbow is a specific type of tendinitis that results from repetitive arm and wrist motions that lead to a strain in the muscles and tendons of the arm. Athletes aren’t the only people who can develop tennis elbow; it can happen to anyone who commonly moves their wrist and arm in a particular manner. Tennis elbow pain originates at the outside of the elbow but can radiate downward into the forearm or the wrist.
Arm Pain Causes Originating in the Wrist or Shoulder
Carpal tunnel and De Quervain’s tendinitis (or De Quervain’s tenosynovitis) both primarily affect the wrist, but the pain from these conditions can extend into the forearm. Carpal tunnel syndrome can be the culprit if you experience swelling in the tendons or connective tissues of the wrist, while De Quervain’s tendinitis can be the diagnosis if you have swollen wrist tendons at the base of the thumb. The pain from both conditions can radiate upward into the forearm.
The muscles and tendons surrounding the shoulder joint are referred to as the rotator cuff. Usually the result of an overhead repetitive motion, a rotator cuff injury causes an ache in the affected shoulder that worsens when compressed during sleep. The pain of a rotator cuff injury is localized in the shoulder but can also cause arm weakness and discomfort.
Frozen shoulder, which is also known as adhesive capsulitis, causes stiffness, tenderness and pain in the shoulder joint that can radiate down the arm and limit its range of motion. People with diabetes are prone to frozen shoulder, as are those who have had to immobilize the shoulder due to an arm injury or surgery.
Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy and Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome
Reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD) causes burning pain, tenderness and swelling in the arm. It is also characterized by fluctuations in body temperature along with sweaty, flushed, shiny, blotchy or discolored skin. Also referred to as chronic (or complex) regional pain syndrome or, simply, “the shoulder-hand syndrome,” RSD is thought to result from a dysfunction in the central or peripheral nervous system. This dysfunction sends abnormal signals along nerves that affect skin and blood vessels. More common in women than men and in people ages 20 to 35 years old, RSD is sometimes triggered after an injury or surgery and can be heightened by emotional stress.
More Serious Arm Pain Causes
Pain, stiffness, bruising or swelling in any portion of the arm after a fall or accident could signal a sprain, fracture or broken bone. Visible abnormalities in the arm, such as a bend in the arm or a bone actually protruding through the skin, signal a broken bone and cause intense pain.
A dislocated shoulder or elbow can also cause intense pain and difficulty moving the arm when the bones of the shoulder or elbow joint are forced out of alignment. Typically resulting from a fall, shoulder dislocations are the most commonly dislocated joint among adults, followed by the elbow.
Arm pain that comes on suddenly, feels especially severe and is accompanied by a feeling of fullness or squeezing in the chest could signal a heart attack. If arm pain is accompanied by chest discomfort, comes on with exertion and gets better with rest, it could be due to angina, a condition caused by reduced blood flow to the heart.
Any of these more serious arm pain causes should be treated as soon as possible by a doctor.
Videos About Common Arm Pain Conditions
- Complex Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS)
- Frozen Shoulder (Adhesive Capsulitis)
- Lateral Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
- Medial Epicondylitis (Golf Elbow)
- Overuse Injuries of the Elbow
- Phantom Limb Pain
- Rotator Cuff Tears
- Shoulder Arthritis