Arm pain is fairly common and could be the result of injury or stress—but it can also signal something more serious. “You should seek treatment from a medical professional,” says acupuncturist Thuy Kim NguyenDAOM, LAc. “The sooner you resolve an issue with pain, you may be deterring further injury — and the sooner you can get back to being your healthier self.” Here are five ways your arm pain could mean serious illness. Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Persistent pain in the arms and legs could be a sign of long COVID, studies show. “Many patients with COVID-related musculoskeletal disorders recover, but for some individuals, their symptoms become serious, are deeply concerning to the patient or impact their quality of life, which leads them to seek medical attention and imaging,” says Dr. Swati Deshmukh, assistant professor of musculoskeletal radiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a Northwestern Medicine musculoskeletal radiologist. “That imaging allows us to see if COVID-related muscle and joint pain, for example, are not just body aches similar to what we see from the flu — but something more insidious.”
Arm pain could be a sign of diabetic peripheral neuropathy, doctors say. “Diabetic nerve pain or ‘damaged nerves’ are a result of an injury or disease,” says Mark Bussell, DPT, BS, OCS. “The restriction of blood flow to the damaged nerves leads to the chronic, debilitating pain. Nerve pain can make doing the simplest things very painful.”
Pain, tenderness or swelling in the arm could be a sign of a blood clot. “Most blood clots form in the leg, but they can also develop in the blood vessels of your arm, particularly if you have a medical catheter or if you recently had surgery in your arm, neck or chest,” says the AARP.
Arm and shoulder pain could be a sign of lung cancer. “(Various types of) lung cancer can present in a myriad of ways,” says board-certified radiation oncologist Gary Larson, MD. “I’ve treated two patients in the last few months whose lung cancer presented with shoulder pain. I’ve seen countless patients during my career who have presented with shoulder pain because the cancer had spread to the scapula (shoulder blade) or upper humerus (upper arm bone) – or to the spine at the level where the nerves go to the shoulder – or along the path of those nerves – like those described above.”
Pain in the left arm is a well-known sign of heart attack, doctors say. “Pain radiating to your jaw, back, neck, or arms may signal a heart condition, especially if the origin is hard to pinpoint,” according to cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD, and Cleveland Clinic. “For example, you might feel pain, but no specific muscle or joint aches. If the discomfort begins or worsens when you are exerting yourself, and then stops when you quit exercising, you should also get it checked out.” And to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.
Ferozan Mast is a science, health and wellness writer with a passion for making science and research-backed information accessible to a general audience. read more