Left arm pain can be either acute—meaning it can be sudden and stick around for a short period of time—or chronic, lasting longer than three months.
It can affect any area of the arm, including the elbow, fingers, or shoulders.
Here we will highlight the common causes for left arm pain and the treatment to help you better manage it.
Causes of left arm pain
Heart attack: A heart attack occurs when the heart muscles are deprived of oxygen, so circulation gets compromised. This can be the result of a clogged or severely constricted artery. A heart attack can occur at any time, and having certain risk factors—high blood pressure or cholesterol—increases a person’s risk of developing a heart attack. Along with left arm pain, a person may also experience chest pain, sweating, nausea, and vomiting during a heart attack.
Angina: Angina is part of coronary heart disease and is described as chest discomfort. A person may experience burning, heaviness, pressure, aching, squeezing, fullness, or pain as a result of a reduction in blood flow. The pain may originate in the chest, but radiate to the left arm.
Stress or panic attack: A panic attack can present itself like a heart attack, accompanied by sweating, heart palpitations, and, of course, left arm pain. If your doctor has examined your heart and the results are normal, then an anxiety disorder may be the root cause.
Physical injury and overuse: Less serious causes of left arm pain involve physical injury or overuse. In this case, your heart is fine, but your left arm is damaged in some way. Common injuries include a mastectomy, left brachial plexus injury, left arm, wrist, or hand fracture, sports-related strains or sprains, rotator cuff injury, and tendinitis.
Bad circulation: For some, bad circulation may occur even if the heart is fine. Some causes of poor circulation include colder temperatures, physical trauma, vitamin deficiency, certain diseases, certain medications, improper sleeping position, and the formation of a blood clot.
Poor sleeping position: Continuously sleeping on your left side or in an improper sleeping position can result in pinched nerves, which causes left arm pain.
Medication side effect: Some medications may cause left arm pain as a side effect. You may want to speak to your doctor if you suspect your left arm pain is associated with your medications.
Carpal tunnel syndrome: The median nerve, which provides the sensation of feeling to the hands and arms passes through an opening at the base of the wrist. This opening is known as the carpal tunnel and is narrow and susceptible to compression, which is known as carpal tunnel syndrome. This pain commonly starts in the forearm and the first three fingers of the hand.
Bicep/triceps tendonitis: After exercising and lifting heavyweight, sharp, sudden pain in the elbow is a telltale sign of bicep/triceps tendonitis. These common injuries can even come from simple tasks if the weight being lifted is too much to bear.
Both injuries have symptoms of bruising in the affected arm and weakness in the shoulder or elbow.
Referred pain: In some cases, the site of pain doesn’t always coincide with where the injury is located. In some cases, pain in the arm may be caused by another injury in the shoulder, chest, or another part of the body. Arm pain could also be an early warning sign of a heart or nervous system issue.
Treatment Options for Left Arm Pain: Proper treatment for left arm pain involves understanding the underlying. For example, if your left arm pain results from a heart-related problem, you need to seek medical help right away to ensure that appropriate treatments can be administered.
If your left arm pain stems from an injury or overuse, then your doctor may recommend that you rest the arm or wear a sling or brace to better help support it.
If an improper sleeping position is causing your left arm pain, you will want to ensure you change up the way you are sleeping at night.
Left arm pain associated with poor circulation can be resolved by increasing physical activity levels.
When to See a Doctor for Pain in the Left Arm
You should see your doctor right away if your left arm pain is accompanied by chest pain, nausea, vomiting, or dizziness. This is signaling a heart-related problem, so immediate action must take place to prevent complications.
If swelling begins in the left arm and the pain lasts for several days, or if bleeding occurs, these are also indicators that you need to see a doctor for your left arm pain.
If you are having difficulties moving your arm, you should also see a doctor.
Exercises for Arm Pain
Start in a standing or sitting position and cup your elbow with the opposite hand. Lift the elbow and pull it across the chest without rotating the body. Hold for 30 seconds. You should feel the tension in the shoulder but no pain. Slowly relax and repeat with the other arm.
In a standing or sitting position, lift one arm above your head and bend it at the elbow, so your hand reaches toward your back behind your head. With the opposite hand, gently push back against the bent elbow and hold for 30 seconds. You should feel the stretch in the triceps. Remove hold and relax, repeating with other arms.
With more people than ever sitting hunched over a computer screen all day long, this exercise is vital. Start in a sitting or standing position and put your back up nice and straight. Tilt your head from one side to the other as if you were putting an ear to the shoulder. Don’t move the shoulder, keep it relaxed. Hold for 30 seconds, and release. Repeat on the other side.
Start by standing upright and extend the arm in front of you with a palm parallel to the floor. Using the opposite hand, pull the wrist back until you feel a slight stretch in the forearm. There should be no pain. Hold for 20 seconds and release.
This exercise can help to flex the wrist and improve blood circulation through the forearm. Standing straight, extend arms in front of you with hands at shoulder height. Make fists and rotate each wrist clockwise in a circular motion, then anticlockwise.
This exercise can help to stretch the pronator muscle and improve flexibility and reduce pain in the forearm. Start by sitting upright in a chair and place the elbow on a table. Using the opposite hand, gently push the forearm down towards the table. The stretch should not cause any pain and should be held for 15 seconds.
Things to Keep In Mind If You Have Left Arm Pain
While left-arm pain may not always be an indicator of an oncoming heart attack, it is important to seek the advice of your physician if you are experiencing discomfort in your left arm and have been previously diagnosed with heart disease.
If the pain in your left arm occurs after a hard fall, or if you’ve bumped into something, it may be a broken or fractured bone. If left untreated, this can cause more issues in the future. If there is a possibility that you’ve broken something in your arm, it is best to get it looked at by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Similarly, if you have any difficulty being able to fully rotate your shoulder, elbow, or wrist, this may be due to a rotator cuff tear, bursitis, or tendinitis, and if left without treatment, these issues can progress and worsen over time. Be sure to get your arm looked at by a trained professional if you experience any of these symptoms as soon as you can to prevent your condition from worsening
If your left arm pain is caused by a muscle sprain or strain, it can be treated at home by resting the arm, applying ice on and off for short periods, and keeping it elevated. Over-the-counter painkillers may also help to ease any discomfort until the sprain has fully healed.