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Upper arm pain can become a massive burden for those affected in everyday life. Because often these occur with simple movements, such as getting dressed, brushing teeth or blow-drying the hair. Find out more about possible causes and therapies for upper arm pain here.
Upper arm pain describes all painful complaints in the area between the shoulder joint and elbow. Elbow pain and pain in the shoulder joint are therefore usually not directly attributable to the upper arm complaints, but can certainly radiate into the upper arm.
The complaints in the upper arm are usually perceived as pulling pain along individual muscles, fascia or nerve tracts during certain movements. Many sufferers feel this during overhead movements such as putting on a sweater or blow-drying your hair. One-sided loads, like carrying a bag, can also be associated with pulling upper arm pain.
Sometimes the symptoms also appear during the night's sleep. Most of the time, sleeping on your side is the trigger for the pain, which often affects those affected. Lack of sleep and chronic fatigue can result.
The painful pulling often starts from the insertion of the tendon of the supraspinatus muscle on the upper arm or the insertion of the biceps brachii muscle on the shoulder blade and extends from here to the upper arm area. In addition to the pulling, rather flat pain, sharp, localized pain in the upper arm can also occur. These are more often seen on the back of the upper arm, for example in the area of the triceps (triceps brachii muscle).
If the nerves or nerve pathways are impaired, the symptoms may not only affect individual muscles but entire muscle groups in the nerve supply area. In such cases, sensory disturbances often occur as accompanying symptoms. These include tingling in the limbs or repeated falling asleep in the hands.
Upper arm jokes are often associated with further complaints in the shoulder, neck and neck area. This includes shoulder blade pain and neck tension, as well as a stiff neck or neck can be accompanied by pulling pain up to the upper arm.
Causes of upper arm pain
Basically, pain sensations in the upper arm can be caused by impairments of the muscles, the surrounding connective tissue structures, the nerves, the blood vessels and the bone substance. Most of them are due to functional causes, but in rare cases they can also have an organic cause.
Pain from fractures and bruises
If the upper arm pain is based on injuries caused by external violence (trauma injuries), such as bruises, bruises or broken bones, those affected are generally aware of the cause of the complaints (accident, fall or similar) and therefore consult a doctor. This determines whether there is actually a fracture of the upper arm and what other measures have to be taken.
Accompanying the trauma injuries usually shows a clear swelling or a bruise (hematoma) that can extend to the shoulder joint and elbow.
Muscular causes of upper arm pain
Impairments of the muscles and nerves, which can lead to arm pain in the upper extremity, are often due to repeated incorrect loads. Examples include an unfavorable posture when working on a PC or certain activities in assembly line production. Due to the incorrect load, individual muscles or muscle groups begin to harden painfully. The muscle tone is permanently increased and the tense muscles press on the surrounding connective tissue structures, blood vessels and nerve tracts.
In addition to the symptoms that are perceived directly in the area of the affected muscles, pain can also occur in the supply area of possibly pinched nerves and blood vessels.
Strength training or bodybuilding can also be mentioned as a potential trigger for muscular pain in the upper area of the arm. Under stress, there is also a torn muscle in the biceps, which can be linked to tissue bleeding, upper arm pain and restricted movement.
A muscle fiber tear can theoretically also affect the triceps and thus cause the symptoms. However, this is rather rare and usually only occurs under extreme stress or overload.
Cause pinched nerve
A nerve may be trapped in large arm pain. This so-called “nerve compression” more often affects certain nerves of the brachial plexus (nerve network in the shoulder area), such as the axial nerve (axillary nerve).
All painful impairments of the brachial plexus are summarized in the medical community under the generic term "brachialgia". The compression of the nerves often only occurs with certain movements, so that those affected suffer, for example, from pain when lifting their arms. There may also be permanent nerve compression at rest, in which those affected experience persistent discomfort in the upper arm.
Organic causes of upper arm pain
Organic diseases should also be considered in connection with the possible causes of the symptoms. First of all, a heart attack should be mentioned here. If, along with the upper arm pain, there are other symptoms such as severe chest pain or heart pain, tightness in the chest, difficulty breathing, abdominal pain (especially in the upper abdomen), nausea and vomiting, an emergency doctor should be called in immediately.
Sometimes so-called lipomas (benign tumors of the cells of the adipose tissue) trigger the symptoms. These are not infrequently recognizable as a bulge on the skin, but can also lie deeper and initially remain unrecognizable. Depending on the location of the lipomas, different complaints are possible.
Another possible cause is impairment of the blood vessels. These include, for example, thrombosis or inflammation of the superficial arm veins (thrombophlebitis). The affected veins appear painfully sensitive to pressure, reddened and hardened in thrombophlebitis.
Based on the description of the symptoms, there are usually first indications of the cause of the symptoms. A physical examination with palpation of the arm, shoulder and neck area can provide further important clues.
If in doubt, an examination using imaging techniques is required to ensure the diagnosis. For example, thrombophlebitis can be clearly identified with the help of ultrasound (sonography). Broken bones are visible on x-rays and tumors can be detected using magnetic resonance imaging or computer tomography. If a heart attack is suspected, an electrocardiogram (EKG) is usually performed to confirm the diagnosis.
Treatment for upper arm pain
If there are functional causes such as muscle problems or nerve compression, a combination of medical massages, physiotherapy and possibly supplementary acupuncture can usually alleviate the symptoms within a relatively short time. Pain relievers can be used to relieve the patient of the acute pain.
If the humerus is broken, complete immobilization or fixation is required first. Usually, the bone fracture heals on its own over time. Complicated fractures may require surgery to straighten the bone.
If thrombophlebitis is the trigger, it is usually treated with anticoagulant and anti-inflammatory drugs. Sometimes surgical intervention is also required here. Existing blood clots or entire sections of the affected vein can be removed. Tumors such as lipomas are usually also surgically removed.
Naturopathy for upper arm pain
With manual therapies such as osteopathy, chiropractic and Rolfing, naturopathy offers extremely promising treatment approaches for functionally related upper arm pain. Tense muscles are loosened, blockages released, pinched nerves released from the pressure.
This also takes into account complaints that are not initially obviously related to the upper arm pain, but nevertheless provide evidence of an unfavorable distribution of tension in the organism. These include, for example, back pain, groin pain or hip pain.
In addition, alternative medicine relies on various homeopathic remedies for functional complaints, which are said to have a positive effect on the muscles. Arnica, Bryonia and Calendula are used to treat muscle strains and torn muscles.
The so-called Schüssler salts are mainly used for muscular pain in the upper arm. Salt 7 (Magnesium phosphoricum) is usually recommended here because it relaxes the muscles and can thus relieve the pain.
If a connection between the muscle complaints and the acid-base balance or a possible acidity is suspected, naturopathic therapy tries to compensate. A healthy, varied diet plays an important role here. Finished products and acid suppliers such as sugar, white flour, dairy products and meat should be avoided as far as possible and primary foods (fruits, vegetables, herbs etc.) should be consumed instead.
While the manual procedures can certainly be rated as a substitute for the conventional treatment, homeopathic drugs, Schüssler salts and the balance of the acid-base balance can only be considered as accompanying therapeutic approaches. (fp, nr)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Dipl. Geogr. Fabian Peters, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
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