Pain in my left arm?
May 30, 2013 3:56 PM   Subscribe

You're not my doctor of course, but what could this be? I've been having a weird pain in my left arm all day. Details within....

It's fine as long as my arm is at rest at my side but the moment I try to lift it, it feels tight and heavy and I have a strong, sharp ache in my bicep, tricep, around and especially just above my elbow and in my extensor digitorum and brachioradialis muscles. When I extend my arm out straight, it hurts all the way down on the top side.

I have no pain in my shoulder, or anywhere else. No pain, tingling or numbness in my fingers. No cardiac pain. No pain or tightness in my chest. Am not lightheaded or dizzy. I had more caffeinated coffee than usual today -- 48oz instead of 24oz. I have not lifted anything unusually heavy or otherwise strained it.

I've also been under a great deal of stress the last few weeks.

The fact that it's only in my left arm is freaking me out a little. Is there any possibility that this might be heart-related? Should I have it checked out just to be sure? All serious suggestions welcome.
posted by zarq to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Don't freak out, but yes, you should go see your doctor. It sounds similar to my uncle's symptoms who ended up needing a coronary stent. It could be nothing. But it's going to take some tests to figure out which it is.
posted by GuyZero at 4:04 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Since it feels fine when it is at rest you are probably not having a heart attack, if that is the concern. Usually motion induced pain is a sign of some kind of joint or tendon problem. But I am absolutely not a doctor.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:07 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anyone on here who tells you anything other than "go to the closest ER out of abundance of caution" has rocks in his or her head (with all due respect to the previous poster). Stop what you are doing, and get thee to the nearest ER. Now. If you have pulled muscle your cost to find out will be roughly equivalent to 3 months of premium cable. If you have something coronary related you could die. Go. Just go.
posted by brownrd at 4:15 PM on May 30, 2013 [9 favorites]

It could be something as simple as you slept on it wrong. But you don't know that. Get to a doctor asap.
posted by deborah at 4:21 PM on May 30, 2013

Obviously the safe, reasonable thing to do is to go to Urgent Care or the ER. That said, does the arm pain get worse when your heart rate goes up? Don't do anything to test this - just think whether it did after walking around after being seated for a while. (IANAD)
posted by gingerest at 4:22 PM on May 30, 2013

Just for the record, zarq, my answer was not meant to be interpreted as "you don't need to see a doctor". I obviously didn't say that. I was just conveying to you what my doctor once said to me when I saw him about bad pain in my left arm which turned out to be tendonitis. I offered it as a calming response because you are clearly anxious.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 4:41 PM on May 30, 2013

Go to a doctor.

That said- I have thoracic outlet syndrome in my right shoulder and the pain when I slack on doing my PT exercises can feel very similar, but I also get severe numbness in my fingers along with the pain.
posted by lyra4 at 5:26 PM on May 30, 2013

I also have thoracic outlet syndrome and have had similar pain, but I got that diagnosis after going to the ER. So: go to the doctor.
posted by whitneyarner at 6:52 PM on May 30, 2013

Obviously, urgent care is the right answer.

But what kind of pain is it? What happens if you poke a painful area with your other hand? What happens if you relax your muscles and use your other arm to lift the arm? If you can make it hurt by manipulating it, you are probably ok. But I'm just some person.

Heart attack pain doesn't necessarily correspond with activity levels. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't.

And just for grins, take an aspirin.
posted by gjc at 7:15 PM on May 30, 2013

zarq. DUDE. What do you think you would tell anyone on these boards. GET TO A DOCTOR.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:43 PM on May 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Follow-up. ER said I'm not having a heart attack. Might be muscular. Likely a hormonal issue. I am apparently very hypothyroid which has thrown a bunch of ranges on my blood test way outside of normal. I'm going to have to see an endocrinologist, cardiologist and my gp within the next few days.


Thanks to everyone for kicking me in the ass and telling me to get this checked out.
posted by zarq at 8:48 PM on May 30, 2013 [5 favorites]

Not too long after a friend died of a heart attack, I had what seemed like really severe heartburn. Sharp, intense sporadic pain. I felt foolish but called my doctor's office. They said Come right in wired me up the the machine that makes the squiggly lines, and it was heartburn, not a heart attack. And they said You did the right thing; don't feel stupid. You should be able to call your doctor and talk to a health care professional who can help you with judgement calls, even after hours. takes too long, and is not a health care professional. The ER at my local hospital takes calls, too. And, if all else fails, go to Urgent Care or the ER. I hope you feel better.
posted by theora55 at 8:53 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Oh man once your hypothyroidism gets treated you are going to feel like a new person.
posted by KathrynT at 9:27 PM on May 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would be surprised if hormones are causing you to have a focused pain in your left arm. I would expect the hypothyroidism and various lab abnormalities to be a separate issue. But please update after your physician visits.

Pain in your arm that occurs only when you move that arm is indeed most likely musculoskeletal in origin. Left arm pain related to your heart would not be related to left arm movement specifically, it would either be constant or would occur with any kind of exertion that increased the workload of your heart.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:29 PM on May 30, 2013

Glad to hear you are OK zarq!
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 5:32 AM on May 31, 2013

treehorn+bunny, saw my GP this morning. You're right. He said something similar and thinks I probably just pulled a muscle or something. Will be going for a scan later to be sure.

The pain is only present when i lift my arm. It gets quite bad if I try to reach up for something. But when I'm at rest and not moving it, there's virtually no pain at all -- just a dull fading ache. It does feel a tiny bit better this morning.

Endocrinologist appt next week. I've been having weird aching pains in my hips, knees, neck, shoulders and ankles for a while now. They make getting up from sitting on the floor an annoying process. And I've had quite a bit of fatigue. Nothing debilitating -- to be perfectly honest, I thought I was just getting old. :P
posted by zarq at 8:46 AM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

Scan came back. Nothing damaged or serious. I must have pulled muscles in both my upper and lower arm. It's healing, and I'm trying to remember not to lift anything heavy or raise my arm too far. Feels much better after the weekend, thankfully.
posted by zarq at 3:44 PM on June 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm going to mark this resolved since I wasn't having a heart attack. I want to thank everyone here VERY VERY MUCH for urging me to go to the doctor and get checked out. Better safe than sorry. Plus I not only learned something, I'm now able to take care of it so that was definitely helpful.
posted by zarq at 3:46 PM on June 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

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