Underarm Pain

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What is underarm pain?

Underarm pain refers to pain of the underside of the arm or the armpit (axilla). Anyone can experience underarm pain, which can be the result of injury, infection or inflammation. Underarm pain may also be a type of referred pain, which is pain perceived far from the site of injury. For example, in the case of angina, which is chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart, you may feel underarm pain in addition to chest pain.

Treatment for underarm pain depends on the exact cause and severity. Mild pain may go away with time. If underarm pain is related to a muscle strain, home remedies, such as cold compresses, and over-the-counter pain medication may help to treat the pain. In more serious cases, underarm pain may require other treatment, such as physical therapy, surgery, or prescription medications.

Frequent causes of underarm pain include muscle strains, pinched nerves, and minor injuries. Underarm pain may also result from a viral infection, an infection of the soft tissues of the underarm itself, or an inflammatory condition. In rare cases, underarm pain may also be linked to a growth, such as a cyst or tumor.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if your underarm pain feels like pressure or squeezing and radiates through the chest, as underarm pain may be referred pain from a serious underlying heart condition such as coronary heart disease (narrowing of blood vessels that bring blood to the heart).

If your underarm pain is persistent or causes you concern, seek prompt medical care.

What other symptoms might occur with underarm pain?

Underarm pain may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Musculoskeletal symptoms that may occur along with underarm pain

Underarm pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the muscles, bones, tendons and cartilage including:

  • Muscle weakness

  • Redness, warmth or swelling

  • Reduced mobility (range of motion of a joint)

  • Shoulder, arm, hand or finger pain

  • Tenderness

Other symptoms that may occur along with underarm pain

Underarm pain may accompany other symptoms including:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, underarm pain may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting, as it may be referred angina (chest pain due to decreased blood supply to the heart). It may also result from a serious fracture. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • A bone that sticks out of the skin

  • Chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, or palpitations

  • Paralysis or inability to move a body part

  • Respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or inability to breathe, labored breathing, wheezing, or choking

  • Sudden, intense, stabbing pain in the underarm

  • Uncontrolled or heavy bleeding or hemorrhage

What causes underarm pain?

Underarm pain may arise from any injury or inflammation of the underarm. It may also be referred pain from the chest, which may occur with serious coronary conditions.

Common causes of underarm pain

Underarm pain may be caused by minor injuries or inflammation of the underarm including:

  • Bone fracture

  • Irritation of the underarm

  • Minor cuts or lacerations of the underarm

  • Nerve entrapment or compression

  • Overuse injury

  • Sports injuries

Other causes of underarm pain

Underarm pain can also be caused by many other conditions including:

  • Cyst (benign sac that contains fluid, air, or other materials)

  • Fibromyalgia (chronic condition that causes pain, stiffness and tenderness)

  • Common cold (viral respiratory infection)

  • Infection of the underarm, including abscess or cellulitis (infection of the skin and tissues beneath the skin)

  • Surgery

  • Viral infections

Serious or life-threatening causes of underarm pain

In some cases, underarm pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of underarm pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your underarm pain including:

  • How long have you had your underarm pain?

  • Do you have any other symptoms?

  • Do you use your arms frequently in daily activities?

  • Have you had a recent injury?

  • What makes your underarm pain feel better or worse?

What are the potential complications of underarm pain?

Underarm pain may simply go away with time. It may also respond to home remedies, such as cold compresses, or over-the-counter medications. Underarm pain may also be referred pain from the chest, which can be a sign of a serious heart condition.

Because underarm pain can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Heart failure (if underarm pain is due to heart attack)

  • Permanent loss of sensation

  • Permanent nerve damage (due to a pinched nerve), including paralysis

  • Pulmonary embolism (if deep venous thrombosis is present)

  • Severe discomfort or pain

  • Spread of cancer

  • Spread of infection

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 13
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
  1. Angina. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute Diseases and Conditions Index. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/Angina/Angina_WhatIs.html
  2. Hand/wrist/arm problems. FamilyDoctor.org. http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/tools/symptom/526.html