It is common for doctors to hear complaints of “pain in my left arm,” especially in middle-aged women. Although left arm pain is seen in men and in different age groups as well, this symptom worries many women because they think it may be linked to a serious condition such as heart disease. Left arm pain in women has many possible causes, which may not be serious at all. However, it is best to see a doctor immediately if your pain is severe and of sudden onset.
Causes and Treatments of Left Arm Pain in Women
Poor circulation may result from acute or chronic constriction or tightening of the blood vessels, which may be due to disease, physical trauma, nutritional deficiency, blood clots, medications or improper sleeping position. Poor circulation may be an indication of a serious disease, but it can be probably relieved by simple remedies.
Treatment: Improve your circulation by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Ask your doctor about taking health supplements such as vitamin C or gingko biloba. Massage your left arm before bed and avoid alcohol and caffeine to prevent left arm pain.
Walking, sitting or standing with poor posture can cause various types of body pain, including left arm pain. You may experience a sensation of pins and needles or even numbness on your left arm, which may be caused by pinching of nerves due to an awkward position for a long period time or overusing your left arm compared to the right arm.
Treatment: Improving your posture to reduce pinching on your nerves can avoid left arm pain.
It is not uncommon for left arm pain in women to be associated with extreme stress, which can lead to a panic attack. Panic attacks may cause symptoms that are similar to a heart attack, such as sweating, chest pain and left arm pain.
Treatment: Learn to manage stress by living a healthier lifestyle and relaxing. This includes eating healthy food, exercising, getting enough rest, and avoiding cigarettes, alcohol, and drugs. Trying meditation to reduce stress, anxiety, fear, and anger can help avoid panic attacks and symptoms like left arm pain.
Physical Injuries or Overuse
Common causes of left arm pain in women due to injury or overuse include:
Strains and sprains
These are injuries that can result from any heavy physical activity such as heavy lifting or exercising 2 or more days in a row. Sprains occur when ligaments are overstretched, while strains occur when muscles or tendons are torn. Think through the activities that you have recently undergone and find the root cause of this pain.
Treatment: Rest your left arm and avoid any heavy physical activities. Your doctor may recommend OTC pain relievers to you. A cold compress can also help relieve the pain (Note: if you have poor circulation, do not use cold compress). Severe strains and sprains may require surgery to repair the injury.
Tendons are thick, fibrous cords that attach your muscles to the bones. Repetitive use or sudden injury to a tendon in your left arm can cause inflammation (tendinitis), which leads to pain. Common terms used for this condition include: tennis elbow, golfer's elbow, and pitcher's shoulder.
Treatment: Rest and OTC pain relievers can help treat tendinitis. Alternating hot and cold therapy is another effective way to relieve the pain. If you're first injured, applying an ice pack for the first 3 days or so can help reducing swelling by numbing pain and constricting blood vessels. After that, applying heat can increase blood flow, which may promote healing.
Rotator cuff injury
The muscles and tendons that enable you to move and stabilize the shoulder are collectively called the rotator cuff. Overuse or injury to these muscles can result in severe left arm pain, if left untreated.
Treatment: Rest and take OTC pain relievers to relieve symptoms. Avoid strenuous or repetitive activities that cause pain. If conservative treatment does not help, consult your doctor.
Broken hand, wrist, elbow or arm
A broken or dislocated elbow, arm or hand (fracture) can cause severe pain and inability to function. This is an emergency and you should immediately go to a nearby medical facility for treatment. In most cases, a dislocated elbow can be treated with surgical repair.
Left brachial plexus injury
The brachial plexus is a network of nerves that come from the spine and gives signals to your shoulder, arm and hand. Injury to these nerves may be caused by overstretching or trauma, which can lead to severe damage. Some injuries heal on their own, but severe damage requires surgery.
Angina or chest pain occurs when your heart does not receive enough oxygen in the blood. It can be a sign of a heart disease, which can give you symptoms like an aching, burning, or squeezing sensation in the chest. The pain can spread to the upper abdomen, which is sometimes similar to indigestion. It can also spread to your neck, shoulder, jaw, and left arm. Together with these symptoms, left arm pain in women is warning sign for them to call their doctors immediately.
Treatment: Your doctor will prescribe medications for angina, but you will also be advised to make some lifestyle changes that include a healthy diet, exercise and quitting smoking.
The most severe causes of pain in the left arm is heart attack. A heart attack (myocardial infarction) occurs when heart muscles are severely deprived of oxygen due to poor circulation. This may be due to a blood clot that cuts off circulation to one or more of the coronary (heart) arteries, resulting in damage and death of heart muscle cells. It can also be caused by severe constriction or spasm of the arteries. A heart attack may occur at rest or during intense activity, but it may also be triggered by intense emotions. Heart attack symptoms in women include:
Squeezing sensation, fullness, pressure or pain in the chest, which lasts more than a few minutes and may go away and then come back
Pain/discomfort in the neck, jaw, back or stomach
Left arm pain, right arm pain or both may be affected
Shortness of breath
Treatment: This is a life-threatening situation and immediate medical attention is necessary.
Call emergency medical services (911) immediately.
Treatment includes special medications to prevent abnormal cardiac rhythms, dissolve blood clots, relieve pain and improve heart function.
A surgical procedure called angioplasty may be needed to treat the narrowed or blocked coronary arteries. In life-threatening cases, a heart bypass surgery may be required.
Some prescription drugs may cause left arm pain in women. Ask your doctor if your medication has a side effect that may be causing your symptoms.
Left arm pain in women who have undergone surgery for breast removal (mastectomy) due to cancer is common. Consult your doctor for proper evaluation and treatment.