Left arm pain: 6 possible causes (and what to do?)

left arm pain

The occurrence of left arm pain is generally a source of anguish and great worry, because it is generally associated with a dreadful condition: myocardial infarction, commonly called " heart attack ".

Fortunately, pain in the left arm is not always synonymous with a heart attack. Many pathologies can be the cause.

In all cases, the opinion of a doctor is essential in front of any pain in the left arm so as not to miss a serious pathology.

Left arm pain: definition

In anatomy, we mean by " arms " the part of the upper limb that extends from the shoulder to the elbow. Any pain that sits at this level is therefore designated by "arm pain".

It is important to specify the characteristics of this pain, because this is what will help the doctor to ask the correct diagnosis. To do this, a careful questioning, a complete physical examination (which is not limited to the left arm) and any additional examinations are necessary.

Thus, the clinical and paraclinical data will make it possible to determine the type of pain:

  • Pain localized to the left arm or diffused to the whole upper limb.
  • Acute or chronic pain.
  • Sharp pain that appeared following a trauma.
  • Pain associated with deformity or swelling of the arm.
  • Pain appeared following the hyper-solicitation of the arm.
  • Pain that worsens when straining the arm.
  • Electric pain.
  • Pain accompanied by tingling or burning sensation.
  • Pain associated with shortness of breath, chest pain and jaws who do not yield to rest in a context of general malaise.

Of course, in medicine, we do not treat a symptom but a patient! It is therefore essential to know the personal and family history of the latter, to specify the context of his pain in the left arm, its triggering factors…

For example, a left arm pain associated with chest pain in an elderly patient with a cardiovascular history will direct us first and foremost to a myocardial infarction. The terrain is very important in these kinds of situations.

6 Possible Causes of Left Arm Pain

Pain in the left arm can be caused by:

  1. Cardiac (myocardial infarction).
  2. Tendinitis (tendonitis of the long biceps).
  3. Bone (humerus fracture).
  4. Nervous (cervico brachial neuralgia).
  5. Articular (rheumatoid arthritis).
  6. Muscular (fibromyalgia).

1- Myocardial infarction (heart attack)

Myocardial infarction, better known as " heart attack ", is a condition characterized by the destruction of a more or less extensive part of the myocardium (muscle of the heart) following an obstruction (partial or total) of one or more arteries of the heart.

Clinically, myocardial infarction is manifested by pain thoracic brutal retrosternal, generally on the occasion of an effort, not yielding to rest, radiating to the left arm (or even the two upper limbs) and the jaw.

Sometimes, myocardial infarction is manifested by atypical symptoms such as digestive disorders (stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, etc.), isolated pain in the left arm or jaw.

Thus, pain in the left arm, even isolated, should never be taken lightly, as it can be a sign of a heart attack, a fatal condition if not treated as soon as possible. So, at the slightest doubt, go to the emergency room or call the emergency services (15)!

2- Tendinitis of the long biceps

La tendonitis of the long biceps, or biceps brachii tendonitis, is a common cause of arm pain. It is manifested by pain in the front of the shoulder and down to the arm.

This pain is triggered during the upset flexion (against resistance) of the forearm on the arm. It can also appear when stretching the biceps muscle, which is why some call it “wallet syndrome” (appearance of pain when you put your hand on the back pocket of the pants to take your wallet, because this causes the stretching of the biceps muscle and its tendon).

Other possible symptoms of long biceps tendinitis are swelling, redness and muscle weakness in the shoulder (inflammatory signs) with reduced mobility.

Long biceps tendonitis can occur at any age. Its causes are various:

  1. Hyper-Use ou overuse: overuse of the biceps brachii muscle is the most common cause of biceps longus tendinitis. It is often found among athletes, workers (chain work with stereotyped gestures)...
  2. Heavy load port: tendonitis of the long biceps is frequently seen in the field of bodybuilding (bodybuilding, bodybuilding, weight lifting, etc.), among movers, construction workers, etc.
  3. Shoulder trauma: for example, fall with landing on the anterior face of the shoulder. This is a fairly rare cause of tendinitis of the long biceps.

The treatment of tendonitis of the long biceps is essentially based on the muscle rest affected, taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, applying ice packs to the painful area and targeted exercises to strengthen the affected area. It is recommended to consult a physiotherapist (physiotherapist) or an osteopath for better care.

It is common for tendonitis to reappear a few weeks/months after healing. It is therefore necessary to prevent recurrences by changing professional or sports habits (avoid repetitive movements and carrying too heavy loads, take breaks during prolonged efforts, etc.).

3- Fracture of the humerus

A fracture of the arm manifests itself, of course, by pain! This is not always obvious, because the pain may not be felt immediately (sometimes due to the adrenaline secreted in large quantities during a violent trauma).

The signs in favor of a fracture of the humerus are:

  • Evocative context (notion of accident, fall or other trauma, area of ​​bone fragility such as osteoporosis, etc.).
  • Cracking sensation in the arm during the trauma.
  • Functional impotence (difficulty or impossibility to mobilize the arm) with Desault attitude (the healthy limb supports the injured limb).
  • Exquisite pain in the arm, which can be reproduced by pressure on the injured area.
  • Deformation or shortening of the arm.
  • Swelling (oedema), redness (ecchymosis or hematoma) in the arm or shoulder stump.

The diagnosis of humeral fracture is based on clinical data supplemented by a radiography standard of the arm (face and profile shots). The latter will make it possible to confirm the diagnosis and to specify the characteristics of the fracture, in order to adapt the care.

The treatment of a humerus fracture consists of repositioning the bone fragments and then immobilizing the upper limb with a plaster thoraco-brachialis (or using a splint in an “elbow to body” position).

Sometimes, faced with a comminuted fracture (complex, with several fragments) or very unstable (significant displacement, etc.), the surgery remains the treatment of choice (osteosynthesis, nailing, etc.).

4- Cervicobrachial neuralgia

La cervico brachial neuralgia is a pain – like an electric shock, burning or vice-like sensation – of neurological origin which begins in the cervical region and ends in one or more fingers of the hand, passing through the arm and the forearm.

In addition to this pain having a characteristic path, cervico-brachial neuralgia is accompanied by sensitivity disorders such as tingling in the fingers or a board-like feeling when an object is touched.

In more advanced cases, difficulty in performing certain simple gestures (writing, buttoning his shirt, etc.) appears, as well as muscle cramps, muscle wasting, finger retraction and, in the final stage, paralysis.

Cervicobrachial neuralgia is caused by compression of one or more nerve roots inside or at their exit from the spinal canal.

This nerve compression can be caused by:

  • A cervical disc herniation : dehiscence of the posterior wall of a intervertebral disc neck and expulsion of a piece of the latter which compresses a spinal nerve. This disco-radicular impingement is at the origin of a pinching of the root, which translates clinically into pain all along the path of the latter.
  • A cervical spondylosis ou cervicarthrose : bone and ligament degeneration due to aging leads to a reduction in the holes through which the spinal nerves exit. Their root is therefore crushed when passing through these narrow holes, which irritates the nerves and triggers cervico-brachial neuralgia.
  • A tumor ou a bone fracture: much rarer cause of cervico-brachial neuralgia.

The treatment of cervico-brachial neuralgia depends on several parameters, in particular the cause, the stage of evolution and the clinico-radiological assessment.

Here are some of the therapeutic weapons we have to treat this condition:

  • Medical component ou “conservative treatment” : are intended only to relieve pain:
    • Rest / immobilization by cervical collar.
    • Analgesics (from paracetamol to morphine).
    • Steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.
    • Cervical infiltration of cortisone.
    • Physiotherapy (massages, gentle muscle strengthening).
  • Surgical component: in the event of failure of well-conducted medical treatment. The purpose of the surgery is to decompress the nerve roots by removing the herniated disc fragment and placing a prosthesis in its place or by merging the two vertebrae adjacent. Other surgical techniques exist depending on the exact cause of the compression.

To know everything about cervico-brachial neuralgia, see the following article.

5- Articular origin

Sometimes left arm pain comes from damage to the shoulder or elbow joints. Here are some joint pathologies that can cause pain in the left (or right) arm:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis (autoimmune disease mainly affecting the small joints).
  • Septic arthritis (infection in a joint).
  • Lyme disease (transmitted by a tick bite).
  • Gout (possible elbow damage, but relatively rare).
  • Psoriatic arthritis.

6- Fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is a condition characterized by widespread pain throughout the body evolving in a context of profound asthenia (great fatigue) and sleep disorders.

Its precise mechanism remains unappreciated nowadays. Several hypotheses have been put forward, in particular hormonal disturbances, an increase in the pain perception threshold, anomalies in the functioning of the nervous system, the involvement of genetic factors, etc.

Pain usually begins in the neck and shoulders. They then extend to the back, thorax, with both arms and the legs. In some cases, a simple touch of the skin can trigger pain throughout the body. This phenomenon is called allodynia ».

What to do in front of a pain in the left arm?

The attitude to have in front of a pain in the left arm depends of course on the causes. The most important thing is to know recognize the urgency absolute represented by myocardial infarction. In the slightest doubt, go as soon as possible to a doctor in order to benefit from an electrocardiogram and adequate care.

In the event of trauma (fall, false movement, etc.), moderate pain in the arm can be relieved by resting the arm, taking simple analgesics (paracetamol), non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (tablets, capsules or ointment) and the application of cold to the painful area. A physical therapist (physiotherapist) or osteopath can greatly help relieve symptoms.

Tools and accessories can provide short-term pain relief and improve quality of life (especially if the cause is cervical). However, it should be noted that these methods will not necessarily correct the cause of the problem in the long term.

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    RENPHO Cervical Massager, Shiatsu Massage Device, Back and Neck Shoulder Massage with Heating, 3D-Rotation Adjustable Speed, Gifts for Mothers Dad Women Men
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If these measures are not enough to calm the pain, and if it persists too long (several days) or increases in intensity, it is best to consult your doctor. The latter will look for the exact cause of the pain and treat it specifically.

What about natural remedies?

Although they are not supported by solid scientific evidence, several natural products and home remedies are used to treat various body pains, especially for their anti-inflammatory power.

Here is a non-exhaustive list of plants and essential oils that are effective in controlling pain and inflammation:

  • Turmeric : Thanks to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powers very powerful, turmeric is one of the most used plants in a culinary and therapeutic context. The composition of turmeric is essentially made of essential oils, vitamins (B1, B2, B6, C, E, K) and trace elements. But it is to its composition rich in curcumin and curcuminoids that we owe them and calm skin of this spice.
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  • Ginger : In addition to the special flavor it brings to the kitchen and its aphrodisiac properties, ginger is a root well known for its anti-inflammatory powers. THE gingerol gives it its anti-inflammatory action. It is an active component acting on the inflammatory pain related to chronic joint inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, rheumatic diseases, etc. It has been proven that this active element is also effective in acting on the inflammation linked to arthritis and sciatica. Ginger also has other benefits thanks to its high potassium content and its richness in trace elements (calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium) and vitamins (provitamin and vitamin B9).
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  • Omega-3s : Omega-3 are polyunsaturated fatty acids that play a very important role in the functioning of our body. They are provided by food in three natural forms: docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), alpha linolenic acid (ALA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). Beyond their action on the brain and the cardiovascular system, omega-3s prove very effective against inflammation. Indeed, they have the ability to act on the inflammatory mechanisms in osteoarthritis by slowing down cartilage destruction, thus they reduce the intensity of osteoarthritis pain. Sciatica, being most often linked to an inflammation secondary to a herniated disc, it can also respond to omega-3 provided it is consumed regularly. 

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  • Lemon eucalyptus: Eucalyptus is a plant most often used in the form of herbal tea or essential oil. She would have anti-inflammatory effects which give it the ability to act on the bone and joint pain in general and the pain of sciatica in particular.
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  • wintergreen : Wintergreen is a shrub from which a very interesting essential oil is extracted. It is one of the most used essential oils in aromatherapy. This oil extracted from the shrub bearing the same name, is used in massage to relieve sciatica and act like a analgesic. Indeed, it provides a heating effect thanks to its ability toactivate blood circulation locally.
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Are you looking for solutions to relieve your pain?

Discover the opinion of our team of health professionals on various products available on the market (posture, sleep, physical pain), as well as our recommendations.

References

[1] L. Bontoux, B. Fouquet, J. Laulan, G. Raimbeau, Y. Roquelaure, and I. Vannier, “Round table on the place of surgery in chronic upper limb pain”, Chir. Hand, flight. 28, no 4, p. 207-218, 2009.

[2] G. Lamraski, D. Toussaint, and J. Bremen, “Surgical treatment of fractures of the lower extremity of the femur by extramedullary osteosynthesis”, Acta Orthop. belg., flight. 67, no 1, p. 32-41, 2001.

[3] FCEM AP℡ and F. Cail, “Musculoskeletal disorders of the upper limb”, INRS ED, flight. 957, 2007.

[4] X. Banse and F. Lecouvet, “ Cervical disc herniation » UCL School of Orthopedics, 2015.

[5] J.-M. Vital, B. Lavignolle, V. Pointillart, O. Gille, and M. De Sèze, “Common cervicalgia and cervicobrachial neuralgia”, EMC-Rhumatol.-Orthop., flight. 1, no 3, p. 196-217, 2004.

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