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How to Heal a Sore Arm

Four Methods:Determining the CauseResting Your ArmManaging PainHelping Your Arm Heal

Sore arms are common and are usually the result of exercise, sports or repetitive motion. Symptoms can include pain, swelling or cramps. Minor problems usually resolve on their own. Though you should see a doctor if the pain is severe, there are many things you can do at home to help with the pain and allow your arm to heal.

Method 1
Determining the Cause

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    See if you have a simple sprain. Sprains occur when tissues are stretched, twisted or torn. Symptoms are pain, swelling, bruising, limited mobility and a “popping” sound when the injury occurred. The sprain is temporary and tissues are not permanently damaged. Sprains usually improve in just a few days.[1]
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    Determine if you have tennis elbow or golfer’s elbow. These conditions, also known as tendonitis, lead to pain in the elbow area of the arm. Causes usually include overuse of the muscles and tendons around the elbow joint. Pain can last several weeks or even months but taking care of the injured arm will help it heal faster.
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    Check for symptoms of bursitis. Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa, which are small pouches of fluid that sit over joints to protect them. Normally the amount of fluid in the bursa is very small, but with injury it can swell up and become very painful causing bursitis. It usually develops from repetitive movements of the arm, and the pain often improves in a few weeks. Swelling can last longer but will gradually get better as well.[2]
    • An area affected with bursitis will be swollen or red and will likely hurt when you press on it.
    • Cases of bursitis along with injuries that have broken the skin may become infected and require antibiotics.
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    Consider nerve pain as the cause. The nerves in the spinal cord can become compressed, especially as you age. Symptoms include radiating pain from the neck to the arms or a feeling of pins and needles. Pain can fluctuate from day to day but usually improves with non-prescription painkillers, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and exercise.
    • A trapped nerve can happen in the arm as well. If it happens in the wrist, it is referred to as carpal tunnel syndrome, and when it happens in the elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome. Symptoms usually include pain and tingling in the affected arm or hand.
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    Know that a repetitive strain injury (RSI) is a possibility. When you use your arm or hands to do tasks regularly, such as at manufacturing, manual handling, heavy machinery and computer jobs, RSI can occur. Carpal tunnel syndrome is one type of nerve injury that can result from repetitive motion like typing. Employers can improve conditions and modify your workspace to help prevent aggravating your condition by, for example, offering an adjustable chair or moving your work platform so that you don’t have to reach up as high.[3]
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    Check for symptoms of angina. Angina results when arteries that lead to the heart become hardened and narrowed. Symptoms include dull, tight or heavy feeling chest pain that can radiate to the left arm, neck, jaw or into the back for several minutes. The pain usually shows up during activity or stress. Always see your doctor if you have chest or left arm pain related to exercise.
    • Women in particular more commonly present with less "classic" symptoms of angina, such as arm pain only.

Method 2
Resting Your Arm

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    Rest the sore area. Don’t exercise, lift, type or do anything to make the sore arm feel worse. Your tissues need to relax in order to heal and prevent further injury. Discontinue all activities that make the pain worse, and focus on using the injured arm as little as possible.
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    Use wraps or compressive elastic bandages. To decrease swelling and help protect your arm, you can wrap the area with an elastic bandage (such as an Ace wrap). Be careful not to wrap your arm too tightly to avoid swelling around the wrapped area. Always loosen bandages that become too tight.
    • Numbness, tingling, an increase in pain, coolness or swelling around the bandage are all signs that your wrap is too tight.
    • Talk to your provider if you have to use a wrap for more than 48-72 hours.
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    Remove all jewelry. Your arm, hand and fingers can swell a lot after an injury. Be sure to take off rings, bracelets, watches and all other jewelry. They can be harder and more painful to remove later as swelling increases and can contribute to nerve compression or restricted blood flow.
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    Wear a sling. Slings can help keep your arm elevated and protected. They can also keep pressure off the injury, make you more comfortable and offer support. Contact a medical provider if you need to use the sling for more than 48 hours.
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    Elevate your arm. Keep your arm above or at heart level to reduce swelling. When lying or sitting down, you can use pillows on your chest or side to keep your arm elevated. Don’t make your arm so elevated that you don’t get adequate blood supply.

Method 3
Managing Pain

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    Apply a cold pack. You will want to use ice or cold packs as soon as possible to help keep swelling at bay. There are many cold therapy packs available from your local drug store that you can apply to the sore area. You can also use a bag of frozen vegetables or a towel filled with ice. Cold can be applied for up to 20 minutes several times a day.
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    Use heat. When 48-72 hours have passed after the injury, you can apply heat to the sore area. Don’t use heat if you still have swelling. You can also alternate between heat and cold to help make your arm feel better. [4]
    • Avoid heat on the area for the first 48 hours because it can increase swelling—this includes hot showers, tubs and packs.
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    Take NSAIDs. Over-the-counter painkillers like ibuprofen, naproxen and acetaminophen can be used to help with pain and swelling. Always follow the directions on the label and don’t take more than the recommended dose. Never give children aspirin.
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    Massage the area. You can use gentle pressure to rub or massage the sore area. This can help with pain and get blood flowing better to repair the damaged tissue faster. If it hurts too much, don’t try to massage it until your pain level decreases.
    • One way to massage areas that are sore is to use a tennis ball. You roll the ball over the sore area, and when you feel a tender spot, roll it slowly over the area for a maximum of 15 times.[5]
    • You can also go get a massage regularly from a professional, which may prove helpful.
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    See a doctor. Always consult with a doctor for any questions or concerns you may have regarding your sore arm. If you are unable to control the pain, it lasts more than 2 weeks or your pain gets worse, then you need to see a doctor. Also, if you can’t use your arm normally, you develop a fever or you start to get numbness and tingling, it’s time to call your medical provider.

Method 4
Helping Your Arm Heal

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    Listen to your body. Don’t force your arm to move a certain way or pick something up if it hurts. Pain lets you know you need time to recover. If your arm is sore, then let it rest and repair any damaged tissues. Don’t push yourself to do things that may make the injury worse.[6]
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    Drink water. Sometimes dehydration can cause muscle cramps that can be felt in your arms. Always drink extra water when you’re exercising or out in the heat. Electrolyte replacement drinks or sports drinks can be diluted with water to about ½ and ½ and used to replace salt, sugar as well as other minerals. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.
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    Eat well. You need to eat a balanced diet to ensure that you get all your daily required vitamins and minerals. A lack of some minerals like calcium and magnesium can cause muscle cramps. If you feel like you aren’t getting what you need from what you eat, consider a whole-food-based multivitamin or talk to your doctor about taking more calcium or magnesium.
    • Dairy and dark green, leafy vegetables are foods you should incorporate into your diet regularly for vitamins and minerals.
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    Reduce stress. Stress lowers your immune system and makes it harder for your body to repair itself. When you are injured, it’s important that your body can focus on repairing the damaged tissue instead of trying to regulate a stressed system. Practice meditation and deep breathing exercises to encourage healing.
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    Learn proper form and movement. When you do certain activities, you need to use the proper positions and movements to avoid straining muscles, joints or tendons. If you make the same arm movements often throughout the day, then you should consider finding other ways to move your arms to avoid RSI. It is sometimes necessary to have a professional evaluate your arm movements at work or while performing other actions to ensure they aren't problematic.
    • Always make sure that the equipment you are using to exercise or do sports with are correct for your ability level and size.
    • Call your human resources department at work to discuss modifications, other ways of performing job tasks or about getting another position within the company if what you are doing is causing sore muscles, tendons or joints.
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    Don’t smoke. Smoking can slow healing. It can decrease blood supply and prevent enough oxygen from getting to your damaged tissues to repair them in a timely manner. Smoking can also increase your chance of getting bone issues like osteoporosis that can lead to more severe injuries.
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    Do stretching exercises. Do slow, gentle stretches of the area that is hurting. Do not use jerky movements, and don’t stretch beyond what is comfortable. Hold each stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat if you want to.
    • A tricep stretch can be performed by raising your hands above your head and bending one elbow down. Grab the wrist of the bent arm with the other hand and pull it down toward your back. Repeat with the opposite arm.
    • Stretch your biceps by clasping your hands together behind your back and straightening your elbows. Bend forward, moving your clasped hands toward the ceiling.
    • You can stretch your shoulders by putting one arm across the chest and using the opposite arm to grab your forearm. Gently pull the arm toward your back shoulder. Repeat with the other side.
    • To stretch your wrists, cross your hands together to form a cross. Push down with the top hand, so your wrist flexes. Repeat with the other hand. [7]


  • If your muscles or tendons have severe tears, you may need surgery or require physical therapy.
  • If you feel pain, tingling or numbness in your left arm and pressure or squeezing in your chest, call emergency services right away.

Things You'll Need

  • Cold pack
  • Compression bandages
  • Non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Heat pack or heating pad

Article Info

Categories: Injury and Accidents