Left Arm Pain: 10 Possible Causes

Written by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022

Man sits on the couch holding his left arm in pain

Left-arm pain is a term used to describe a symptom or issue that could cause discomfort on the left shoulder due to ageing, bone or joint injury, or a pinched nerve. If it is sudden or unexplained pain, it could signal a serious condition such as a heart attack or angina.

What are the symptoms of left arm pain?

Pain in the left arm can be due to various medical conditions or injuries. It can also be related to work-related activity, sports and sometimes even psychological factors.[1] Symptoms may vary depending on the underlying cause. It is usually dull, aching or shooting pain, accompanied by headaches and muscle weakness symptoms. Emergency services should be called if it is abrupt, severe, throbbing, and associated with shortness of breath.

What causes left arm pain?

Left arm pain can be associated with conditions like bone or joint injury in the shoulder, impingement of tendon or nerve, anxiety, ageing, joint diseases like osteoarthritis, or could be a sign of an impending heart problem, from angina to a heart attack.[2]

Causes of left arm pain

There are many reasons why left arm pain happens, including complications from arthritis and other chronic diseases. Simply put, it can be a simple strain to a heart issue. Here are some causes:

1. Bursitis

Bursa is part of joints that are fluid-filled sacs that allow fluid movement of a specific bone, like the shoulder. Repetitive movement and overuse are reasons for bursitis, especially when we age.[3]

The difference is that you will experience this when you rest it while lying on the back or moving your shoulder in certain positions, resulting in an inability to rotate the shoulder. Other symptoms include a burning sensation in the area and tingling.

2. Fractured or broken bone

There may be no pertinent sign of fracture in your arm or wrist, except for pain when you move the arm or put weight on it. Associated symptoms include swelling and tenderness.

3. Herniated disc

A herniated disc, especially in the neck, is when the disk between your spinal bones absorbs shock or weight ruptures.[4] As a result, this presses the nerves leading to neck pain, then moves or radiates to your arm. A tingling or burning sensation and numbness can be felt, which increases when there is movement.

4. Pinched nerve or cervical radiculopathy

A pinched nerve on the neck is when a nerve from the cervical vertebrae is compressed and inflamed. Someone with cervical radiculopathy has the same symptoms as a herniated disk on the lower back, from pain, stiffness of the neck, and tingling sensation reaching the arm.[5]

5. Rotator cuff tear

A rotator cuff tear is caused by lifting a heavy object or repetitive activities. In turn, this causes significant muscle weakness, which makes it challenging to carry out day-to-day tasks.

A person can feel pain when lying down on the affected arm and moving it in different positions. A crucial point of this injury is that it makes your arm weaker, and your range of motion is greatly affected.

6. Sprains and strains

These are caused by overstretching or tearing a ligament (sprain) or pulling a muscle extensively (strain) due to trauma to the area, excessive or improper form of proper body mechanics, and even sudden change of position. Common symptoms include pain, bruising, swelling, and weakness.

7. Tendinopathy

Tendons are tissue bands connecting the bones and muscles. The risk of inflammation of any tendon increases with age and repetitive work. It causes pain not only in the shoulder but also in the elbow. The symptoms of tendininopathy are similar to bursitis.

8. Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome

Vascular thoracic outlet syndrome is secondary to compressed blood vessels on the collarbone due to trauma or activity repetition, causing injury. Ultimately, it can cause progressive nerve damage, especially on the arm, if not addressed. Symptoms include numbness, tingling, and weakness in your arm.[6] In some cases, it can swell. Others report discolouration of the hand, cold hand or arm, and a weak pulse.

9. Heart Attack

A clot in your blood vessels around the heart or the coronary artery can stop the blood flow affecting parts of the heart. A lack of blood in the heart arteries causes damage, making blood pumping harder.[7] Without treatment, the heart muscle will start to die.

Additional symptoms of a heart attack include the following:

  • Chest pain or pressure on the chest. It may feel like a large animal stepped on your chest.

  • Pulsating or throbbing pain to the chest radiating to parts of the left side of the upper body: from the neck, back, shoulder or jaw.

  • Feeling nauseous or vomiting, associated with dizziness.

  • Shortness of breath from chest pain.

  • Lightheadedness or fainting.

  • Breaking in a cold sweat.

  • Extreme unexplained fatigue.

Some people have intense symptoms, or they can be intermittent and mild, such as in the case of indigestion.

10. Angina

Experiencing angina is a symptom of coronary heart disease, wherein the heart organ lacks oxygen. It can feel like you have had a heart attack but only lasts for less than five minutes and is triggered by activity or exertion.

What to do if you have left arm pain

Having a heart attack happens abruptly or insidiously. Watch out for the most common symptom of chest discomfort or pain. If you are experiencing this, call emergency services immediately to prevent cardiac arrest. .

Other things to keep in mind are the following:

  • Note if you have been previously diagnosed with heart disease, indicating the root of the left arm pain.

  • A bone that does not heal properly will cause more problems in the future. If you suspect a fracture in your bone, see your general physician right away.

  • Any condition in the shoulder (bursitis, tendinitis, and rotator cuff tears) can lead to complications such as frozen shoulder, which are harder to treat. Early treatment is necessary to prevent further damage, from decreased range of motion to muscle weakness.

  • With strains and sprains, the first thing to do is rest and elevate your arm. In addition, applying ice for at least 10 to 20 minutes several times a day is vital to ease discomfort. For pain, over the counter pain medications can be taken.

Usually, they are not severe, but they could lead to further complications without proper care. Call your local physician if home remedies do not alleviate the pain, are getting worse and/or causing problems in daily living activities.

What to expect at your doctor’s office

Do not delay any left arm pain if other heart attack symptoms accompany it because this is a life-threatening event if unchecked.

A paramedic will be able to use an electrocardiogram to monitor the activity of your heart, and an intravenous line will be inserted in your arm to deliver medication and fluids. They will also provide oxygen if you have shortness of breath.

Upon arrival in the hospital, further diagnostic tests are conducted to confirm if you had or are having a heart attack, and this will then determine the treatment for the extent of the damage. Other causes of arm pain may require imaging tests to rule in or out other conditions, from X-ray, MRI, to CT Scans. Again, the results of these tests will guide your healthcare providers to the specific treatment.

Treatment for left arm pain

If you have heart disease, maintenance medications, symptom relief, and heart-healthy lifestyle changes are prescribed to prevent its recurrence. Surgery is recommended to clear or bypass the blocked arteries in severe conditions.

For broken bones, depending on the appearance of the bone injured, this must be put back into position and immobilised to heal. To do that, you will wear a cast for several weeks. In some situations, fractures require surgery.

First aid for sprains or strains is provided, and includes elevation, resting your arm, and icing the area multiple times a day. To fully rest the area, bandages or splints may be helpful.

Physiotherapy and occupational therapy, rest, and painkillers for inflammation are the main treatments for arm pain. In some cases, corticosteroids or surgery may be needed to alleviate pain and inflammation.


If your pain in the left arm is because of a heart attack, a long term treatment is necessary. But in most cases, arm pain is secondary to injury; you have to rest for it to heal properly. Some other shoulder problems can take longer to heal and could worsen, especially if not treated early. Ultimately, recovery time may be longer as you age.

Written by Jamie Page
Physiotherapist, Salford University
Published on July 21, 2022
Medically reviewed by Dr Gina Arena
Research Fellow, University of Western Australia
Reviewed on July 21, 2022
Medical reviewers
Last medically reviewed on July 21, 2022
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