Acute arm pain

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Acute arm pain is described as the abrupt onset of mild to severe discomfort that can manifest anywhere from the wrist up to the shoulder area. The usual causes of acute arm pain include injuries to the muscles, bones and tendons of the affected limb. The uncommon causes include certain conditions and infections that can instigate acute arm pain.

What are the types?

Always bear in mind that acute arm pain can be categorized as non-traumatic or traumatic. When it comes to traumatic injuries, they are considered as the most common cause of acute arm pain. These injuries typically occur in connection with falls, accidents, forceful blows and sports injuries. Heart disease and infections are the leading causes of non-traumatic acute arm pain.

Traumatic causes

Acute arm pain
The fractures or breaks in the arm bones are the prevalent cause of acute arm pain among adults and children.

The fractures or breaks in the arm bones are the prevalent cause of acute arm pain among adults and children. When an individual falls onto a firmly stretched out arm, it typically results to a broken inferior forearm.

Some cases of bone fractures that occur among children involve the forearm. The fall-related fractures on the forearm can also occur among older adults especially those who have osteoporosis. As for fractures on the upper arm and elbow, they tend to occur less frequently than forearm fractures.

A strong impact to the arm can also result to a soft tissue injury known as a contusion. Swelling, acute pain and bruising typically occur with this type of injury. Forceful lifting, pulling and twisting injuries can also lead to joint dislocations and tears on the tendons, muscles or ligaments.

Non-traumatic causes

A frequent cause of non-traumatic acute arm pain includes bacterial infections on the skin. Cellulitis manifests as a warm, tender, red, swollen area of the skin that rapidly radiates outward as the infection spreads out. In most cases of cellulitis, fever is present.

A life-threatening cause of non-traumatic acute arm pain is a heart attack. Take note that the heart-related pain can manifest in one or both arms and can be accompanied by other symptoms such as nausea, chest discomfort, profuse sweating, vomiting, lightheadedness and shortness of breath.


Proper assessment of the underlying cause of the acute arm pain starts with determining when and how the pain began. The doctor will perform a physical examination to check the structure and functionality of the arm as well as detect other physical findings that can indicate an underlying cause for the acute arm pain.

The assessment of a traumatic injury usually includes an X-ray or other imaging tests to visualize the bones and other arm structures. An EKG and blood tests are also useful in assessing a non-traumatic acute arm pain.


Depending on the degree of damage, the treatment for cases of traumatic acute arm pain can include application of ice and over-the-counter pain medications or even surgery, using a cast and a lengthy course of physical therapy.

In most cases, antibiotics are always included as treatment for acute arm pain due to cellulitis. The arm pain linked with a heart attack requires immediate emergency care to restore the flow of blood to the heart. The treatment for other causes of acute arm pain is based on the underlying cause.

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