The upper arm of our human body is the area between the shoulder and elbow joints. In fact, there are two compartments located in the upper arm, which are the anterior compartment and the posterior compartment:
The anterior compartment of the upper arm refers to the part of the arm that faces forward when your arms are by your sides. It includes the bicep muscles that sit in front of the humerus, which is the main bone of the upper arm. In fact, there are three muscles that are within the anterior compartment area; the biceps brachii, brachialis, and coracobrachialis. The biceps brachii is a two-headed muscle sitting on the front side of the humerus, although it does not connect to the humerus itself.
The two heads of the muscle start at the front and back of the scapula (shoulder blade) and join together at the front of the elbow. The brachialis lies just underneath the biceps. It begins at the humerus and attaches to the ulna, one of the two long bones in the forearm. The coracobrachialis muscle is found on the upper anterior part of the arm close to the shoulder. It begins in the scapula and extends to the shaft of the humerus.
Unlike the anterior compartment, the posterior compartment refers to the part of the upper arm that faces away from the body when your arms are by your sides. It includes the triceps muscle that sits behind the humerus, also called triceps brachii. The triceps muscle is a large thick muscle that includes three heads, which are the long, lateral, and medial. These heads extend down the bone and meet in one tendon at the forearm. The triceps muscle allows the arm to extend at the elbow.
Once you experience a sudden sensation of pain in your upper arm, there could be a wide variety of reasons why. Generally, upper arm pain is typically described as pain, discomfort, or stiffness that happens anywhere from your shoulders down to your forearm in one or both arms. Most often, it is caused by an injury or overuse. However, there are several other health conditions that could lead you to a number of complications.
Causes & Symptoms of Upper Arm Pain
Oftentimes, you will notice upper arm pain to a sports injury or simply overusing it. But other times, other conditions could be present, such as the following:
- Tendonitis – Tendonitis occurs when the tendons in your arm become inflamed. Tendons are bands of tissue that connect muscles to bones. For instance, you may feel the pain run along your shoulder, elbow, or wrist. Tendonitis could be a result of an injury or overuse.
- Fractures – If your upper arm begins to hurt right after a physical injury, you may have fractured it. You might also have noticeable swelling, numbness, bruises, or weakness.
- Strain or sprain – An injury can cause further damage to your muscles or your ligaments. Symptoms associated with a strain or sprain include pain, swelling, bruising, weakness, and muscle spasms. Both conditions normally recover on their own, but if your symptoms are severe, it is recommended to seek treatment.
- Rotator cuff injury – The rotator cuff is a part of your shoulder that is made up of muscles and tendons. It allows your shoulder to move or stay in place. Therefore, as a person ages, the tendons in the rotator cuff start to wear down or even tear. If you have an occupation that requires you to perform overhead motions repeatedly, you may have a chance of damaging it.
- Rheumatoid arthritis – This is a chronic disorder caused by inflammation that mainly affects the joints.
- Pinched nerve – This condition occurs when bones or tissues in your shoulder, neck, or elbow suddenly press against and compress a nerve.
- Herniated disk – If one of the disks in your neck ruptures, it could cause a burning sensation, numbness, weakness, and tingling in your arms.
Upper arm pain can manifest itself in many ways, including these symptoms listed below:
- A radiating or shooting pain.
- Pain that is accompanied by swelling or a change in the shape of your arm.
- Pain that worsens when you use your arm.
- A feeling similar to an electric shock or burning, or pins-and-needles that worsens when you do not move your arm.
- A sharp pain that occurs during a specific movement.
In severe cases, if these symptoms are accompanied by faintness, shortness of breath, or chest and jaw pain, it is recommended to seek urgent care.
Who gets Upper Arm Pain?
Patients with upper arm pain tend to have one or a combination of risk factors, including:
- Age – Older patients ages 40 and older are at an increased of injuring their upper arm due to degeneration. There may also be a risk of tendonitis due to wear and tear.
- Sports – Athletes who participate in sports such as baseball, softball, gymnastics, basketball, and football are susceptible to injuring the upper arm, thus leading to a number of conditions alongside pain.
- Obesity – Being overweight can put more pressure on nerves, increasing the risk of compression.
- Occupational laborers – Engaging in occupations that require constant or repetitive motion of the arm may put you at a higher risk of injuring your upper arm (fractures, inflammation, swelling).
How Does Upper Arm Pain Affect You? How Serious is it?
As mentioned earlier, upper arm pain can be the result of any type of condition ranging from a simple injury to a severe complication, such as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the oxygen supply to part of your heart is cut off due to a blockage that prevents blood from flowing into the muscle.
This life-threatening condition may cause dull pain or an uncomfortable feeling of pressure in the chest. Normally, the pain begins in the center of the chest, and it may radiate outward to one or both of the arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
The pain may last for several minutes, and it may disappear and return in some cases. Having a heart attack can be fatal, so immediate medical attention is urgently required if you experience symptoms linked to this complication.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation for Upper Arm Pain
Performing a diagnosis for upper arm pain is very similar to what doctors usually perform for your biceps, rotator cuff, or any other part of your arm. He or she will begin by performing a thorough physical examination by bending to examine your upper arm. You will be checked to see where you’re feeling pain and tenderness.
Your doctor will also test your arm motion by asking you to move it in different directions. You may also be asked to test the strength of your shoulder joint by pressing against their hand. Lastly, they will examine your neck to check your conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis which can cause symptoms of tendonitis.
Afterward, your doctor may order several imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis of your upper arm pain. An X-ray is usually the first test that is ordered to see if you have a bone spur. Your doctor will also order an ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to precisely rule out other conditions.
Once a diagnosis has been successful, physiotherapy may be further advised. A physiotherapist will work with you by designing a special treatment program specific to your condition and goals. Therefore, some of these treatments will include:
Your physiotherapist will help you indent and avoid painful movements to allow the injured area to heal. Ice, massage, or moist heat may be applied for pain management.
Posture education is an important part of rehabilitation. For instance, when you lean over to reach for an object, the tendons/muscle in the upper arm will feel painful. Your therapist may recommend adjustments to your workstation and work habits. He or she will also instruct you in ideal sitting, standing, and sleeping positions to help alleviate symptoms linked to your upper arm pain.
Range of motion exercises
You will learn exercises and stretches to help your upper arm and shoulder function properly, so you can return to perform activities without additional pain.
As you begin to recover, your physiotherapist will gradually help you return to your regular level of function, which may include simple more-demanding household chores, job duties, and sports-related activities.
Your physiotherapist may use manual techniques, such as gentle arm movements, soft-tissue massage, and shoulder stretches, to get your arm moving properly again.
During your physiotherapy session, your therapist will recommend you the correct exercises for upper arm pain; since these muscles are essential for everyday function. Here are some exercises for a rapid recovery:
Allow your injured arm to hang at your side, then bend your elbow to a 90-degree angle. Next, turn your palm so it faces upward, and hold the position for 5 seconds. Rotate your palm so it faces downward and hold the position for 5 seconds. Repeat this exercise 3-4 times a day.
Bend over at the waist and let the arm down passively. Using your body to initiate movement, swing the arm gently forward and backward and in a circular motion. Perform this pendulum exercise for several minutes, then repeat 3-5 times a day.
Stand with your arms at your sides and with your elbows straight. Slowly raise your arms to eye level. As you raise your arms, they should be spread apart so that they are only slightly in front of your body (at about a 30-degree angle to the front of your body). Point your thumbs toward the ceiling. Hold this stretch for 2 seconds and lower your arms slowly before repeating the exercise with 3 sets of 10 repetitions.
Side-lying external rotation
Lie on one side with your top arm at your side and your elbow bent to 90 degrees. Keep your elbow against your side, raise your forearm and hold for 2 seconds. Slowly lower your arm, then do 3 more sets of 10 repetitions.
Stand six inches in front of a wall and hold your injured arm out horizontally just below shoulder height. Then, place the side of your thumb against the wall, keeping your hand palm-down. Gently turn away from the wall in the opposite direction from your arm until you feel a good stretch, then hold for 15 seconds before repeating 3-4 times a day.
Isometric shoulder external rotation
Standing in a doorway with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and the back of your wrist pressing against the door frame, try to press your hand outward into the door frame. Hold this position for about 5 seconds, then repeat the exercise 3 times a day.
Isometric shoulder internal rotation
Standing in a doorway with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and the front of your wrist pressing against the door frame, try to press your palm into the door frame. Hold for 5 seconds, then do 3 more sets of 10 repetitions a day.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment for Upper Arm Pain
Normally, mild upper arm pain takes about 6-8 weeks to fully recover. Although, following a set of home remedies may increase the likelihood of decreasing your recovery estimation and returning to your activities without any ongoing symptoms. Here are some homeopathic treatments to help relieve your upper arm pain:
- Anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) – Some patients with mild upper arm pain can find great relief with pain medications that do not require a prescription. Applying anti-inflammatory creams may result in the same way if you choose to avoid taking the medicine orally.
- Cold / Heat therapy – Applying ice reduces blood flow, which will decrease inflammation and swelling while applying heat increases blood flow and brings in oxygen and nutrients to the area. This will accelerate the healing process and alleviate upper arm pain.
- Massage – Gently massaging your upper arm will relieve stress and tension in the surrounding muscles, while also improving blood circulation.