911 warning

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

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If

  • Not moving or too weak to stand

call now

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 within 24 hours

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 within 24 hours

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

home care

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.

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