Do you ever feel random sensations such as pain, tingling, numbness, or stiffness in your left arm and wonder what could possibly be the cause? Most people tend to automatically associate any unusual left arm pain or discomfort with a heart attack or other cardiac event. While this isn’t completely off base, it’s not the only explanation by a long shot. And pain in the left arm is just one of many heart attack symptoms (more about that later).
The Left Arm: A Diagnostic Tool
The left arm is a very important limb. And the type of symptoms it presents often indicates what type of condition you might be unknowingly enduring in other parts of your body. So, pay attention to what it’s communicating to you.
Of course, not all physical conditions are as serious as a heart attack. But, you should still familiarize yourself with major and minor symptoms of heart conditions, musculoskeletal issues, and pinched nerves. This will make it easier to determine whether you should seek immediate medical attention.
Conditions and Symptoms Related to Left Arm Pain
There are dozens of reasons your left arm might exhibit peculiar sensations. So, let’s dive right in with the worst case scenario first: heart conditions.
1. Heart Conditions
The same groups of nerves that run through your left arm are also attached to your heart and spinal cord. They send pain signals through your left arm to alert you that something might be wrong with your heart. Depending on the type of pain, coupled with a series of other distinctive symptoms you may experience, this could either be angina or a myocardial infarction (heart attack).
Angina is any pain or discomfort you feel in your chest during or after physical exertion (i.e. exercise, over-excitement, sexual activity, etc.). Once you calm down or rest, the pain usually subsides. When you have a heart attack, the level of pain is consistent and continuous no matter how much you move. It’s also usually accompanied by the following other symptoms:
- Dull chest pain or neck, jaw, and groin pain that exceeds 15 minutes nonstop
- Light-headedness, dizziness, or fainting
- Profuse perspiration, nausea, or vomiting
If you experience a combination of any of these symptoms, it’s absolutely crucial that you seek emergency medical attention.
2. Musculoskeletal Issues
Musculoskeletal issues (i.e. rotator cuff and shoulder injuries, sprains, or fractures in any part of your arm) can be either minor or major injuries, usually caused by external factors such as moving your arm the wrong way or sleeping in an uncomfortable position.
3. Pinched Nerves
Pinched nerves (herniated disc, carpal tunnel syndrome, brachial plexus injury, thoracic outlet syndrome, or cervical radiculopathy) typically develop as a result of extensive, uncomfortable, and repetitive use of certain muscles. Pain can usually be treated with rest, reduced physical pressure, or even with prescription painkillers.
When to See a Doctor for Left Arm Pain
If any pain lasts for an extensive period of time (anything longer than two to three weeks), then you should always consult your doctor. Tell them about all of the symptoms you’re experiencing in detail.
The worst thing you could possibly do is try to self-diagnose or self-medicate. I can’t stress this enough. It’s good to do your own research to educate yourself about your symptoms, but never make assumptions. If your left arm pain is cause for concern, always speak to a trusted healthcare professional about it. They’ll be able to diagnose your symptoms effectively and accurately.
Pietrangelo, A., “Why is There Pain in My Left Arm?” Healthline, reviewed by William Morrison, MD on November 10, 2016; http://www.healthline.com/health/pain-in-left-arm#overview1; last accessed May 12, 2017.
Hughes, M., “What are the Causes of Pain, Numbness & Tingling in the Left Arm?” Livestrong, last updated September 17, 2011; http://www.livestrong.com/article/259802-what-are-the-causes-of-pain-numbness-tingling-in-the-left-arm/, last accessed May 12, 2017.
“Ache in the left arm that you should not ignore,” Medclicker, April 6, 2017; https://medlicker.com/931-ache-in-left-arm#brachial-plexus-injury, last accessed May 12, 2017.