Arm & Shoulder Pain

What Causes Arm Pain?

Arm pain often occurs with shoulder and neck pain but each of these problems may appear alone. When occurring together, the term cervicobrachial pain is often used. The pains may be aching, stabbing, shooting, radiating, sharp or burning. The pain from this condition may radiate through the shoulder and into the arm, mimicking the warning signs of a heart attack.

Aggravating factors may be related to sports activities such as throwing a ball but may also occur with relatively sedentary activities as in working on a computer.

Conditions that cause arm pain may include carpal tunnel syndrome, ulnar nerve entrapment, tennis elbow, tendonitis, arthritis, bursitis and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and a pinched nerve in the neck (cervical radiculopathy). A particular form of shoulder pain and arm pain is brachial neuralgia which may occur spontaneously or may result from a virus or traumatic event.

Arm Pain Symptoms

While symptoms vary in type and intensity from person to person, there are some commonalities:

  • A change in posture aggravates the pain, which often presents at night.
  • The pain is accompanied by tightness and stiffness in the arm and shoulder.
  • The patient will have problems lifting, stretching, or extending the arm.
  • Violent, sharp pains sometimes likened to “lightning bolts” radiate toward the hand.
  • Tingling or numbness is present with accompanying weakness.

Arm Pain Diagnosis and Treatment

A clinical examination is required with a detailed medical history and imaging tests like X-rays or MRIs to diagnosis any type of arm pain and the underlying conditions that are contributing to it. Pain in specific fingers, for instance, can indicate the compression of nerves adjacent to given vertebrae and discs in the neck.

Normally anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, and topical analgesics are used to manage pain and accompanying stiffness and tenderness. Bed rest may be indicated, along with heat application, gentle massage, and potentially light physical therapy. Since all cases are unique to the individual, treatment and management varies widely.

In many cases of arm pain, the complaint disappears when the underlying condition is addressed, for instance, surgery to correct carpal tunnel syndrome. If the pain is due to brachial neuralgia, however, it may last for weeks or even months. A patient’s best course of action is to seek treatment early in the condition rather than “waiting for it to get better.”

What is Shoulder Pain?

Shoulder pain is almost always linked to some degree of discomfort or dysfunction in the neck as well. This region of the human body has a high concentration of muscles, ligaments, tendons, complex bone structures, nerves, arteries, and veins and so is subject to a number of potential problems.

The most common causes of pain are injuries to one or more of these structures, most commonly the soft tissues, ligaments, and tendons. Degenerative arthritis in the spine is also a major culprit, as is degenerative disk disease in the neck. Common injuries include, but are not limited to:

  • Broken collarbone
  • Bursitis
  • Broken shoulder blade
  • Rotator cuff damage
  • Shoulder or A-C separation
  • Whiplash
  • Tendinitis
  • Tendinitis
  • Cervical Radiculopathy(pinched nerve)
  • Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS)

Shoulder Pain Symptoms

Pain in the shoulder and the surrounding region can range widely in intensity from dull to sharp and burning. Some patients refer to a sensation of cramping or even sudden shock-like events. The exact nature of the pain offers important clues to physicians as they begin the process of diagnosing the underlying cause of the discomfort.

Other sensations include, but are not limited to, numbness, abnormal temperature (both heat and cold), color changes (a bluish or whitish tint indicating interrupted blood flow), swelling, and any other deformity that might result from abnormal positioning.

Shoulder Pain Diagnosis and Treatment in Los Angeles

Most patients will initially try to address shoulder pain with activity modification or over the counter analgesics. If the pain persists, however, a doctor should be consulted. Normally an array of tests will be used in concert with a medical history to arrive at a diagnosis. These tests may include MRI scans and X rays.

If the injury is relative to a deep strain or bruise, nothing more than rest may be required. If ligaments or tendons are damaged or torn, surgery may be required. Every case is different and thus treatment can run the gamut of strategies including the use of pain medication, anti-inflammatory drugs, immobilization, physical therapy, injections, and surgery among others.

Even in cases where surgical repairs are required, most neck and shoulder issues can be successfully treated with full recovery or with only minor limitations to the patient’s flexibility and mobility. It is important, however, to seek treatment early in the condition as damage can be cumulative and more serious over time.

Please contact our experts if you have chronic shoulder or arm pain in Los Angeles and Santa Monica.