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  • Arm Pain


    • Pain in the arm (shoulder to fingers)
    • Includes shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints
    • Includes minor muscle strains from hard work or sports (overuse)
    • Pain is not caused by an injury


    • Muscle Overuse (Strained Muscles). Arm pains are often from hard muscle work or sports. Examples are too much throwing or swimming. They are most common in the shoulder. This type of pain can last from hours up to 7 days.
    • Muscle Cramps. Brief pains that last 1 to 15 minutes are often due to muscle cramps. These occur in the hand after too much writing or typing.
    • Viral Illness. Mild muscle aches in both arms also occur with many viral illnesses.
    • Serious Causes. Broken bones (fractures) or joint infections (arthritis).

    Pain Scale

    • Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
    • Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities. It may wake him or her up from sleep.
    • Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.

    When to Call Us for Arm Pain

    Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If:

    • Not moving or too weak to stand
    • You think your child has a life-threatening emergency

    Call Us Now (night or day) If:

    • Your child looks or acts very sick
    • Can’t use arm normally
    • Can’t move a joint normally
    • Swollen joint
    • Muscles are weak (loss of strength)
    • Numbness (loss of feeling) present over 1 hour
    • Severe pain or cries when arm is touched or moved
    • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
    • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

    Call Us Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If:

    • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
    • Fever is present
    • Bright red area on skin

    Call Us During Weekday Office Hours If:

    • You have other questions or concerns
    • Cause of arm pain is not clear
    • Arm pain lasts over 7 days
    • Arm pains or muscle cramps are a frequent problem

    Parent Care at Home If:

    • Caused by overusing the muscles
    • Cause is clear and harmless. (Examples are a sliver that’s removed or a recent shot.)

    Care Advice for Arm Pain

    What you should know:

    • Strained muscles are common after using them too much during sports.
    • An example is throwing a ball over and over again.
    • Weekend warriors who are out of shape get the most muscle pains.
    • Here is some care advice that should help.

    Pain Medicine:

    • To help with the pain, give acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) or ibuprofen. Use as needed. See Dose Table.

    Cold Pack:

    • For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
    • Put it on the sore muscles for 20 minutes.
    • Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
    • Caution: Avoid frostbite.

    Heat Pack:

    • If pain lasts over 2 days, put heat on the sore muscle.
    • Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth.
    • Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
    • Caution: Avoid burns.

    What to Expect:

    • A strained muscle hurts for 2 or 3 days.
    • The pain often peaks on day 2.
    • After severe overuse, the pain may last a week.

    Call Your Doctor If:

    • Fever or swollen joint occurs
    • Pain caused by work or sports lasts over 7 days
    • Pain gets worse

    Disclaimer: This information is not intended be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.

    Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
    Copyright 1994-2013 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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