Left-arm pain symptoms

Updated June 13, 2017

Adults and children alike can develop symptoms of pain in the left arm, which contains three large bones and many muscles and ligaments. Although pain in the left arm often results from an injury related to sports, exercise or overuse, this condition can also be a sign of a serious health problem. Most arm-pain symptoms usually resolve with self-care at home, although symptoms that persist or worsen should be evaluated by a doctor.


Arm-pain symptoms might develop anywhere from the shoulder to the wrist and may be felt from deep within the arm or closer to the surface of the skin. Arm pain caused by overuse may feel like a continuous dull ache or intermittent throbbing while pain caused by severe injuries may develop suddenly and intensely. The pain may occur only with use or movement, or it may be constantly present, even while the arm is at rest.


Any injury or damage to the muscles, tendons, ligaments or bones of the arm can result in symptoms of left-arm pain. In addition, people with nerve disorders such as postherpetic neuralgia, peripheral neuropathy and diabetic neuropathy may develop arm pain. Some people may develop symptoms of pain in the left arm, in addition to other symptoms, while having a heart attack.


People with left-arm pain that lasts for more than one or two days might also notice abnormal redness, swelling, distortion or wounds in the arm. A physician diagnoses the symptoms of arm pain by visual examination, conducting tests for grasp and strength, and imaging techniques such as X-ray or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). People with severe arm pain accompanied by a fever or lethargy should seek immediate medical care.


Left-arm pain that persists and is left untreated may result in significant discomfort, inability to sleep or perform normal daily activities such as getting dressed. People with stress injuries or strains who continue to use the arm may experience a worsening of the injury. Sudden and severe arm pain may be a sign of a medical emergency, which could lead to death if ignored.


People whose jobs include prolonged or intense physical activity should consider taking frequent breaks to avoid developing or worsening arm pain. Children who participate in sports should take care to wear protective equipment during all activities. Using ergonomic aids at work and participating in physiotherapy and gentle exercise can reduce arm-pain symptoms caused by muscle and nerve disorders.


Treatments for arm-pain symptoms depend on the cause and severity of the condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, the PRICE method is often recommended, which is Protect, Rest, Ice, Compress and Elevate. People with arm pain might also take pain relievers or muscle relaxers as prescribed by a doctor, and severe injuries might require surgery to cure the pain.

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About the Author

Jessica Lietz has been writing about health-related topics since 2009. She has several years of experience in genetics research, survey design, analysis and epidemiology, working on both infectious and chronic diseases. Lietz holds a Master of Public Health in epidemiology from The Ohio State University.