Arm pain: causes and treatment.

The arm is a complex part of the body, consisting of many bones, ligaments, tendons, nerves, skin, and other structures that allow it to perform a variety of actions, from delicate manipulations to lifting heavy weights. All the complexity and demands can lead to a host of conditions that can make your hands sore.

Get Medical Information / Emily Roberts


While it can be caused by a variety of reasons, only a few conditions cause most of the arm pain. Some require medical attention, while you can help others by taking care of yourself. The most common causes of arm pain include:

  • Arthritis
  • Tendinitis / trigger finger
  • Ligament injury
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Trauma
  • Ganglion cysts
  • Raynaud's phenomenon
  • Scleroderma


The arm is the most common part of the body for arthritis and especially osteoarthritis, which is a normal part of the aging process and involves the loss of cartilage in the joints. The vast majority of people over the age of 60 have signs of osteoarthritis in their hands. However, some people develop arthritis of the hand at a younger age. Symptoms that can sometimes be serious include:

Osteoarthritis is the most common type of joint disease that affects the hands. Other types can also include the hand, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks the lining of your joints.

Tendinitis / trigger finger

Tendonitis causes inflammation in or around the tendon. It affects the movement of the hands and fingers and causes pain and swelling at the site of inflammation. Tendonitis occurs as a result of injury (usually sudden, sudden movements) or repetitive movements.

Sometimes, hard lumps, called nodules, form on the tendons that can be felt through the skin. They can stick to other structures in your hand and cause your finger to "stick" when you try to move it. When the tendon is released, there is a clicking sensation known as a snapping finger .

The reason for the formation of the nodules is not fully understood, but they may be associated with conditions such as RA and diabetes , or with certain jerky movements of the fingers.

Ligament injury

There are 27 bones in your hand that are connected by a complex network of ligaments . that allow movement by stabilizing the joints. Any injury to the hands can damage one or more ligaments, resulting in problems with simple actions such as bending the fingers, grasping, or pinching.

Arm ligament injuries can take months to heal, and people often notice swelling and stiffness for a long time thereafter.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Several important nerves provide sensitivity to the hand, and when one is damaged or compressed (for example, due to inflammation), it can cause severe pain and impair function. The most common hand condition associated with nerve compression is carpal tunnel syndrome , which occurs when the median nerve in the wrist is irritated or damaged.

Carpal tunnel syndrome causes pain in the hands, which can be painful and sometimes "severe," and tingling or numbness in the fingers and thumb. Rubbing the inside of your wrist can also cause a tingling sensation or an electrical nerve sensation. The pain may also spread up your arm, and you may notice weakness or clumsiness.

This condition is usually caused by repetitive stress, such as frequent typing, scanning food, or using a hammer. Heredity is thought to contribute as do other conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes, and thyroid disease .

Other nerves that supply blood to the arm can also be pinched, causing symptoms in different areas. When the ulnar nerve passes behind the elbow joint, it is called ulnar canal syndrome .


The arm is vulnerable to many types of injuries, including bone fractures and muscle sprains. The possible causes of hand injuries are endless: fingers get caught in objects, hands close doors, and in some sports, they can even step on your hand.

With a large number of small bones, joints, and muscles in a small space, you can have many different fractures or strains, each with its own specific symptoms and functional limitations. It is important that serious injuries are evaluated and treated by a doctor so that they can heal properly.

Ganglion cysts

Throughout the body, there are joints and tendon sheaths that generally contain fluid. A ganglion cyst occurs when this fluid collects in a sac that appears as a lump. These cysts most often develop on the wrist.

Ganglion cysts cause pain when they interfere with the normal movement of the joints and tendons. They often fall into the hands for two reasons:

  1. The arms have many joints and tendons in which cysts can form.
  2. They can be easily seen by hand, while in other places they can go unnoticed.

The cause of ganglion cysts is unknown, but they are more common in women and adults younger than 40 years old. People whose wrists are highly stressed, such as gymnasts, are also particularly susceptible to this condition.

There are many other less common causes of arm pain and they should be considered unless a more common problem has been identified. Your healthcare provider can help determine the exact condition causing your symptoms and determine the most appropriate treatment.

Raynaud's phenomenon

In Raynaud's phenomenon, also called Raynaud's syndrome, the fingers and possibly other limbs have an abnormally strong reaction to low temperatures. When cooled, they can turn blue or white, and when heated, they can turn bright red. Some people experience shooting pain, tingling, or swelling.

Other parts that can be affected by Raynaud's disease include:

  • Ears
  • Nose
  • Nipples
  • Lap
  • Fingers

Raynaud's disease is caused by an overreaction of the blood vessels in the extremities. In some cases, it is a symptom of another condition, such as an autoimmune disease or a connective tissue disease , hypothyroidism , or fibromyalgia . In other cases, it is not known why the blood vessels behave abnormally.


Scleroderma is a condition in which the skin and other organs become stiff. This is especially true for the hands and face, and one of the first symptoms is usually swelling, pain in the muscles and joints of the hands. The disease may be limited to certain parts of the body or it may be widespread.

Scleroderma includes abnormalities of the immune system, connective tissues, and small blood vessels, but the underlying cause of these abnormalities has yet to be clarified.

When to contact a healthcare provider

Most of the time, arm pain resolves with simple treatments. However, some conditions require more urgent treatment. You should call your healthcare provider if you have:


Health professionals have several tools to help determine the cause of hand pain. In most cases, they examine you and then decide what tests are needed to make a diagnosis. If your healthcare provider wants to examine the structures inside your arm, he or she may order:

They may also order various blood tests to look for infection or signs of disease, especially markers of infection or inflammation, such as complete blood count (CBC) , erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sedimentation rate), and C-reactive protein (CRP). ) .

Watch out

Most hand conditions can be treated in several simple ways. Even broken arm bones can heal with simple, non-surgical treatments. However, you should have a check-up with a healthcare provider to make sure nothing is happening that requires medical attention, such as physical therapy or surgery. Your healthcare provider can also tell you if an immobilization, such as a splint, is necessary.


If you have non-emergency arm pain, there are some simple steps you can try to help control pain and improve function, including:

  • Rest – Arm pain from a minor injury, overuse, or repetitive stress often resolves with rest, which can help reduce inflammation.
  • Ice – Ice can reduce inflammation and pain for many reasons.
  • Heat – Stiff joints and muscle pain can be relieved and relaxed with heat.

Over the counter drugs

Nonsteroidal anti- inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as Advil (ibuprofen) and Alev (naproxen) are available without a prescription. They can relieve inflammation and pain and are a common choice for people with hand problems. Alternatively, you may prefer Tylenol (acetaminophen), which relieves pain but does not help control inflammation.

Medical approaches

Self-help and medicine may not always help relieve hand pain. For some conditions, doctors may recommend:

  • Splints : A simple splint or bandage can relieve symptoms and prevent flare-ups.
  • Prescription Medications : For arm pain, corticosteroid injections, oral steroids, prescription NSAIDs, or stronger pain relievers can help.
  • Manual therapy : Hand therapists are specialists who know many different ways to treat hand conditions and prevent relapse.

If your arm pain is the result of a systemic condition such as rheumatoid arthritis or scleroderma, treating the underlying condition may also help.


Some hand conditions may improve after surgery, including:

  • Strong breaks
  • Torn muscles or connective tissue
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

In severe cases of arthritis of the hand, joint replacement surgery may be required.

Frequently asked questions

What healthcare provider treats arm pain?

The best place to start is with your PCP. Depending on what they think is causing the pain, they may refer you to a rheumatologist or podiatrist .

Can diabetic neuropathy cause pain in the hands?

Yes. With diabetic neuropathy , you may experience deep or shooting pains in your hands, as well as tingling, numbness, and burning. Feelings can be controlled with pain relievers, but blood sugar control is also important.

Get the word of drug information

Hand function is critical to daily activities, and hand pain can be limiting and debilitating. If it affects your life and your ability to function, see your doctor. They can help you find simple solutions or discover a serious problem that needs treatment. Regardless of the reason, proper hand care will help you feel better and allow you to do what you need to do and what you want to do.

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