Arm Pain  
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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

  • Pain in the arms (shoulder to fingers)
  • Includes shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints
  • The pain is not due to a known injury
  • Minor muscle strain and overuse injury are covered in this topic


  • Arm pains are unusual
  • Main Causes: Strained muscles from overuse injury (e.g., excessive throwing or swimming)
  • Brief pains (1 to 15 minutes) are usually due to muscle spasms. These usually occur in the hand and follow prolonged writing or typing.
  • Continuous acute pains (hours to 7 days) are usually due to overstrenuous activities or forgotten muscle injuries during the preceding day. These are most common in the shoulder area.
  • Mild muscle aches also occur with many viral illnesses.
  • Serious Causes: fractures, arthritis (joint infection) and neuritis (nerve infection)

If not, see these topics

When to Call Your Doctor

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If
  • Not moving or too weak to stand
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
  • Your child looks or acts very sick
  • Can't use arm normally
  • Fever is present
  • Can't move a joint normally
  • Swollen joint
  • Bright red area on skin
  • Muscle weakness (loss of strength)
  • Numbness (loss of sensation) present over 1 hour
  • Severe pain or cries when arm touched or moved
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
  • You have other questions or concerns
  • Cause of arm pain is uncertain
  • Arm pain present over 7 days
  • Arm pains or muscle cramps are a recurrent chronic problem
Parent Care at Home If
  • Caused by strained muscles from excessive use
  • Cause is obvious and harmless (e.g.,sliver that's removed, a recent shot)

  1. Reassurance: Strained muscles are very common following vigorous activity (overuse injury) (e.g., repeatedly throwing a ball). You can treat them at home.
  2. Local Cold: Apply a cold pack or ice bag wrapped in a wet cloth to the sore muscles for 20 minutes several times on the first 2 days.
  3. Pain Medicine: For pain relief, give acetaminophen OR ibuprofen as needed. (See Dosage table)
  4. Hot Bath: If stiffness persists over 48 hours, have your child relax in a hot bath for 20 minutes 2 times per day, and gently exercise the involved part under water.
  5. Expected Course: A strained muscle hurts for 2 or 3 days. The pain often peaks on day 2. Following severe overuse, the pain may last a week.
  6. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Fever or swollen joint occurs
    • Pain caused by work or exercise persists over 7 days
    • Pain becomes worse

And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "Call Your Doctor" symptoms.

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.

Last Reviewed: 9/15/2011

Last Revised: 8/1/2011

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker

Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.