Arm Shoulder Pain
The most serious cause of arm or shoulder pain can be pain that is related to angina or to a heart attack.
Angina is chest pain that occurs when the heart muscle does not get enough oxygen. Angina pain usually begins after physical activity and resolves with rest, the use of nitroglycerine, or oxygen.
Pain in the arm and shoulder that comes from a heart attack is usually accompanied by nausea, shortness, of breath, sweating, anxiety, paleness, and weakness.
The arm shoulder pain is usually located on the left side.
If you experience these symptoms you should get emergency medical treatment.
Causes of Arm Shoulder Pain
Compression of the nerves in the neck supplying the upper arm may cause chronic arm and neck pain. This type of pain usually worsens with movement or prolonged sitting.
Other symptoms in addition to shoulder or arm pain can be muscle weakness, tingling, and decreased reflexes.
These symptoms usually appear only on one side, and are not accompanied by any fever, neck stiffness, or general feelings of illness.
Classically the nerves being pinched from the neck originate at the C5/6/7 level (i.e. the base of the neck, usually on one side).
Bursitis is a common cause of shoulder and arm pain that starts with a vague discomfort in the shoulder and can progress to significant pain and restriction in a matter of 6 to 12 hours.
Swelling may be present at the shoulder tip. It often follows repetitive tasks involving the arm such as painting, sports, or gardening.
Rotator cuff tendonitis (tendonitis) is an irritation of the tendons and muscles of the shoulder joint. It is most commonly seen in persons who do rotational movements of the arm on a repetitive basis, such as ball players and tennis players. Swelling is not usually detected with this type of arm and shoulder pain.
Muscle contusion is any injury that can cause shoulder or arm pain. The pain in the area is generalised and is accompanied by minor swelling and bruising.
Muscle strains are another cause of shoulder/arm pain. The pain in mild to severe and worsens with movement. There may also be weakness present in the arm or shoulder area.
Arm Shoulder Pain Treatment
Any arm and shoulder pain that is accompanied by inability to use the arm, any loss of sensation, or includes paleness of the hands or fingers needs prompt medical evaluation.
Arm/shoulder pain that is accompanied by redness, fever, neck stiffness, or occurs after a fall or an accident also needs to be promptly refered to a doctor.
For other types of arm or shoulder pain, the general rule of thumb is to rest the arm and shoulder for 24 hours and then begin to very gently use the arm, putting it through its' entire range of motion to prevent "frozen shoulder".
Using ice for 5 minutes at a time, taking care to prevent freezing tissue by wrapping the ice in a cloth is better than using heat if you haven't seen the doctor yet.
Never use ice for arm or shoulder pain without consulting a doctor if you have diabetes or circulatory problems.
Most shoulder/arm pain conditions will resolve with time and do not turn out to be life threatening, however, if your pain is making you uneasy, go ahead and seek medical care.
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