Have you ever experienced an ache or pinching sensation in your arm that won’t go away?
If so, you’re not alone. Persistent arm pain is one of the more common complaints we see here at Chris Bailey Orthopaedics.
Given that we specialise in knees and shoulders, you may find that slightly strange. But then pain is a slippery customer. Just because you feel discomfort in one part of your body doesn’t mean the problem originated there. It may be referred, as doctors put it, from somewhere else.
And so it is with arm pain. Quite often, we find that ongoing discomfort in the arm is actually caused by the shoulder. Which can cause confusion during the examination. “Why are you focusing on my shoulder?” people ask. “You’re six inches too high!” We can understand the frustration.
What might be happening
The reason shoulders sometimes refer pain to the arms is due to the location of our nerve roots. The same ones that supply your rotator cuff – that group of tendons and muscles which allows your arm to move and stay within its socket – also supply feeling to skin further down the arm. So, in a slightly unscientific sense, your brain is ‘fooled’ into thinking your arm is the problem, not your shoulder.
Now there are a number of different reasons why your shoulder might be playing this trick – and, to be clear, we would need to examine you properly to know the answer.
Pain that continues when you rest – particularly if it’s an aching feeling up and down the arm – could for example indicate osteoarthritis (although this is rather less common in shoulders than other parts of the body, such as the knees and hips). Pain that occurs on movement – especially if it’s a ‘catching’ or pinching kind of pain – could indicate a condition like tendonitis (swelling of a tendon after an injury), a subacromial mpingement (irritation or inflammation in the tendons underneath the shoulder blade) or a rotator cuff tear.
What we might do next
One way to treat unexplained pains like these is with a local anaesthetic injection in the shoulder. If the arm pain disappears temporarily (ie for just a few days), it’s a good indication that the shoulder is indeed the culprit. We can then focus our treatment there and get to the root of your pain. On the other hand if the injection works for a little while and seems to be improving the arm pain, we could look to continue progress with some targeted physiotherapy.
Sometimes the best course of action is to monitor and manage the discomfort over the medium term, either with physical therapy or perhaps with a steroid injection every six to 12 months. But of course it’s also possible that the problem is beyond the reach of either physio or injections. When that happens, we can look at surgery options to stop the pain for good.
Have you been ignoring a long-running pain in your arm or shoulder? Don’t feel as though you should put up with it forever! Book in to see your GP, or make an appointment with us direct. We’ll be very happy to help you find out what’s happening, and how we can help you get back to normal.