- There are many causes of pain in the left arm and not just heart attacks.
- Angina, muscle sprain, pinched nerves, and other causes could also be responsible.
- To determine if you require emergency medical attention, check your symptoms.
There are many reasons for arm pain. But left-arm pain, especially if it is accompanied by tightness or chest pain, can often be a sign that there’s something wrong with your heart.
This is because the left arm and the heart share nerve pathways with each other, so problems with either one can cause referred discomfort in the right arm.
These are the causes and symptoms of left-arm pain.
Angina is most common after exertion or stress. However, it can also occur at rest. This is caused by a deficiency in oxygen to the heart, which can cause pain in the chest or left arm.
Angina is described as a dull, aching, or pinching sensation in the middle of the chest. It can radiate to your arm, but it rarely passes from the wrist into your hand,” states Adedapoiluyomade MD, a preventive cardiologist at Baptist Health’s Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. It may be felt in the middle or left side of your chest.
It usually lasts for a few seconds. Angina symptoms include:
- Pain in the neck, jaw, and shoulder
- Abdominal pain
- Breathing difficulties
Angina can be caused by coronary disease. It is estimated that 10-18 million Americans are affected. It is more common in women and older men than in men.
Other than coronary artery disease and angina, there are some other conditions that can increase your chances of developing it.
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
It is possible to treat it by getting unexplained chest discomfort examined by a doctor. However, after receiving a stable and clear angina diagnosis, the symptoms listed above should not be considered a medical emergency.
Your doctor will likely suggest lifestyle changes like exercise and a healthier eating pattern and may prescribe medication to reduce or prevent angina attacks.
Iluyomade advises that you seek emergency medical attention if your angina persists or worsens with time. This condition is known as unstable angina, and it can lead to a heart attack.
2. Heart attack.
A myocardial Infarction is a medical emergency that results in a lack of blood flow to your heart. It can lead to permanent damage to your heart or even death.
Sudden left arm pain can be similar to angina. A 2013 study showed that 17% of people with heart attacks had also experienced radiating pain down their upper arm and forearm.
It could also be a sign of a heart attack.
- Pain in the chest or discomfort
- Upper abdominal discomfort or nausea
- Feelings of anxiety or dread
- Sweating, dizziness, trouble breathing
Angina usually lasts for a few minutes and can be relieved with rest. However, symptoms of a heart attack last for about 10-15 minutes.
Heart attack risk factors include:
- Heart attacks in the family history
- Being a male over age 45
- Being female over age 55
- High blood pressure
- High levels of cholesterol
- Tobacco smoking
- Addiction to alcohol and drugs
How to treat it. A medical emergency is a heart attack. If you are experiencing symptoms, please dial 911.
3. Muscle strain and muscle sprain.
Although sprains or strains can both be caused by overuse, sports injury, or accidents, these are two different things.
- A sprain refers to damage to ligaments, the tissue that connects bones.
- A strain refers to a torn or stretched muscle or tendon – the tissue that connects muscle to bone.
Both strains and sprains to your shoulder, biceps, and forearm muscles can cause pain, swelling, and inflammation. Both a muscle strain and a muscle spasm can result in weakness, cramping, or pain.
How to treat it? Mild sprains or strains can be treated at your home using rest and ice, compression, elevation, and NSAIDs.
Many sprains and strains can be treated in a matter of weeks. But, most orthopedic injuries require that the pain subsides within 3-4 weeks. This is why Robert Anderson, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Summit Orthopedics, advises.
4. Broken bone.
A broken leg is also known as a fracture. It can affect any of the three bones in the arm: the radius, ulna, and the forearm.
Fractures are very common in all ages. They can be caused by accidents such as a car accident or a fall on an arm while playing sports. Fractures are more common as you get older. This is because your bone density declines and causes more fragile, breakable bones.
Broken arms can cause severe, sharp pain.
- Moving without pain is difficult
How to treat it. If you suspect you may have a broken hand, you should consult a doctor immediately. You can treat minor breaks with ice and rest. More severe injuries may need surgery.
5. Rotator cuff injury.
The Rotator Cuff is a term that refers to the muscles, tendons, and surrounding areas of the shoulder. This area is the most common. Up to two million people visit a doctor each year for rotator-cuff problems.
The degeneration of the rotator cuff muscles is often due to aging. There are many estimates that rotator cuff injuries can occur in people in their 60s or 70s and 36%-62% in those over 80.
Anderson states that the main symptom of rotator-cuff injuries is arm pain. This is especially true when the arm is extended outwards from the body and over the head. Additionally, you may experience weakness, stiffness, and numbness in the arm and shoulder, as well as increased pain at night.
If you have a history of shoulder problems or if your daily activities involve repetitive shoulder movements such as swimming, tennis, or lifting weights, your risk for rotator-cuff injuries is higher.
The severity of rotator-cuff tear treatment is dependent on what the patient needs. Eight out of ten cases with partial tears resolve with rest, physical therapy, and NSAIDs. Steroid injections are also available. Surgery may be required in more severe cases.
Tendinitis occurs when the tendons become inflamed due to excessive use. It is most common at the wrist, elbow, and shoulder.
Tendinitis, just like rotator-cuff injuries, can also occur if your job or activities involve repetitive motion. You might feel dull and achy and possibly have tenderness or swelling around the area.
There are several types of tendinitis in the arm:
- Tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis is a condition that causes pain around the elbow and the forearm extensor muscle.
- Golfers elbow or medial epicondylitis is a condition that causes pain in the elbow and forearm flexor muscles.
- Bicipital tendinitis causes pain at the front of the shoulder, where the biceps tendons are located in a groove in the humerus bone.
How to treat it. Tendinitis can be treated in a similar manner to a rotator-cuff injury using RICE. This means that you use ice to rest, ice, and compress, as well as elevation. For more severe cases, steroid shots and physical therapy can be very effective. There are also surgical options.
7. Nerve pinched.
It can cause radiating pain down your arm if nerves in the neck become irritated or compressed. This is called Radiculopathy.
Radiculopathy can result from injury or degeneration of the spine as we age. Radiculopathy occurs when your spinal discs become stiffer and more flattened, which can cause pressure on the spine.
You may feel pain in one area of your body or all over, depending on how the spinal nerves are affected. It may feel constant or intermittent.
The nerves of the arm can be compressed or pinched. This can lead to a cubital syndrome which affects the inner hand and forearm, or carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects both the forearm and forearm.
It is treated in the same way as other orthopedic conditions. This includes rice, NSAIDs, and physical therapy. Anderson says that surgery may be required for more severe cases.
Left arm pain could indicate a serious problem with your heart. You should seek immediate medical attention if you experience left arm pain, shortness of breath, and/or sweating along with chest discomfort.
Other causes of left-arm pain are usually less severe and can be treated with simple at-home and medical treatments.