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What are the Most Common Causes of Arm Pain and Numbness?

By Sandra Koehler
Updated May 17, 2024
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The most common causes of arm pain and numbness include an injury or a disturbance of blood flow to the arm. Injuries can include fractures, sprains, stains, and nerve problems. A change in blood flow to the arm can occur with any of these injuries and with certain medical conditions.

An injury to the muscles or the supporting tendons and ligaments which connect the upper and lower arm bones can cause pain throughout the arm. Injury to the shoulder or neck area can also bring about arm pain. Damage to the brachial plexus, a nerve cluster in the arm pit area, for example, can bring about pain which travels down the arm and even into the hand.

Pressure on the nerves in the neck area can produce radiating pain which spreads to bring about pain and numbness in the arms. Nerve pressure can occur with bulging or herniated discs, tumors, swelling issues, and some infection processes. In addition to pain and numbness, symptoms of nerve irritation or damage can include a burning sensation or the feeling of small needles being jabbed continually into the arm.

When there is a change in blood flow, arm pain and numbness can be experienced. Atherosclerosis, commonly referred to as hardening of the arteries, is a condition where the diameter of a blood vessel gets smaller. Compression of the blood vessels can also happen if the tissues surrounding it are inflamed or swollen. The result is a slowing of the flow of blood. Pain in the chest and left arm is a condition called angina. This pain, similar to a heart attack, is triggered by a reduction of blood flow to the heart.

Another change in blood flow can occur with a medical warning sign called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. This is sudden drop in the blood flow to the brain, and it can produce one-sided arm pain and numbness. Though the resulting throbbing and tingling arm sensation is temporary, it is the body's way of alerting the person of a possible stroke.

Certain medical conditions may cause arm pain and numbness. Diabetes can cause neuropathy or damage to the nerves. Another source of nerve damage where the body's immune system destroys the nerve's protective covering is multiple sclerosis. Rheumatoid arthritis causes joint changes and can bring about arm pain when the joints or connection of bones in the arm are affected. Lupus can damage the joints and blood vessels causing pain or numbness all over the body, including the arm.

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Discussion Comments
By ysmina — On Jul 17, 2013

I get shoulder pain and arm numbness when I swim too much. I think too much arm exercise is bad for the muscles and joints and causes problems. Everything goes back to normal when I take it easy and get plenty of rest.

By donasmrs — On Jul 16, 2013

@literally45-- Has she had an electrocardiogram (EKG) lately? She might want to get a check-up including an EKG if she hasn't had one recently to make sure that she is not at risk of a heart attack.

Pain, discomfort and numbness in the arms are symptoms of a heart attack. It's also a sign of a stroke. There are also other symptoms like difficulty breathing and speaking and chest pain. But everyone is different. Some people don't even show any signs before a heart attack and it's not necessary to have high blood pressure to have a heart attack. So a check-up wouldn't hurt.

By literally45 — On Jul 16, 2013

On some days, my mom has pain and numbness in her right arm. If she was completely healthy, she probably wouldn't worry about it but she has high blood pressure so she starts to panic. She has been checking her blood pressure regularly and everything is normal.

Do people with high BP experience these kind of symptoms? Or is there something else going on?

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