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Left arm pain: symptoms, causes and treatment

Updated: February 2020

Pain in the arms is a common complaint. We use our arms a great deal in everyday life, and the muscles, joints and tendons inside them can all be the cause of this pain. However, arm pain is not always caused by a problem with the arm itself, and may come from elsewhere in the body. In this case, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. If you feel pain in your left arm in particular, it is important to be vigilant because this can be one of the symptoms of a heart attack. It is therefore important to learn to recognise the symptoms in order to tell if a pain in your arm is a cause for concern, and to know when you should seek urgent medical assistance.

Symptoms of left arm pain

Pain in the left arm can be acute (when it comes on suddenly and lasts for a short time) or chronic (when it lasts for over three months). It may come on gradually or suddenly, be severe or moderate, affect only one part of your arm (e.g. under your arm or in your upper arm) or your whole arm. It may also be accompanied by other symptoms (e.g. pain or a tightening sensation in your chest, or pins and needles), which should be taken seriously.

Causes of left arm pain

The causes of left arm pain can vary. The most well known of these is a heart attack. In this case, the arm pain may be accompanied by pain or a tightening sensation in your chest, pain in your back, neck, shoulder or jaw, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness or fatigue. Left arm pain can also be caused by angina. This has similar symptoms but they only last for a few minutes. Pain may also be the result of having tense muscles due to stress. Similarly, an injury or a problem affecting your bones, joints or soft tissue (e.g. a fractured shoulder, arm, wrist or hand, shoulder or elbow tendinitis, bursitis, or a slipped disc) can cause arm pain, as can poor blood circulation and sleeping with an incorrect posture.

Is it a heart attack?

A heart attack happens when the muscles in your heart are starved of oxygen due to a problem with your blood circulation, such as a clot, for example. Pain in the left arm is the best known symptom of a heart attack. When someone is having a heart attack, this pain comes on suddenly, gets worse with exertion and eases off at rest, and is generally accompanied by other symptoms. These might include chest pain or a burning or tightening sensation in the chest, numbness or pain in the arm, back, neck, stomach, or jaw, and nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness or fatigue. If you experience any of these symptoms together, you should call for urgent medical assistance as you could be having a heart attack.

Treating left arm pain

If your left arm pain is benign, you can initially treat it by resting, applying a cold compress to the painful area and elevating your arm. If the pain is caused by a fracture, your arm will have to be immobilised in a plaster cast for several weeks. If it is caused by a musculoskeletal issue (one that affects your bones, joints or soft tissue), treatment may include painkillers or anti-inflammatory drugs, rest, and physiotherapy. Using one of the OMRON HeatTens range of pain relievers can also help to relieve muscle and joint pain using a combination of soothing heat and Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS). If the pain is caused by an underlying heart condition, the treatment may involve taking medication for pain relief, in addition to making some radical changes to your lifestyle. Finally, if someone is having a heart attack, they must receive immediate medical treatment because heart attacks can be fatal and sometimes require surgery if medication alone does not dissolve the clot that is causing the problem.


References:

Wexler, A. (2017). Why do I have a pain in my left arm? Retrieved from www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317652.php

Pietrangelo, A. (2016). Why is there pain in my left arm? Retrieved from www.healthline.com/health/pain-in-left-arm#takeaway

New Health Guide. What causes pain on the left arm? Retrieved from www.newhealthguide.org/Pain-In-Left-Arm.html