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Pediatric - Arm Pain

Arm pain

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Does this describe your child's symptoms?

  • Pain in the arms
  • 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 are rare and usually follow prolonged writing.
  • Continuous acute pains (hours to 3 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, neuritis

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
  • Swollen joint
  • Bright red area on skin
  • Muscle weakness or can't use arm
  • Numbness (loss of sensation) present over 1 hour
  • Severe pain or cries when arm touched or moved
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
  • You think your child needs to be seen
  • Fever is present
  • Painful joint and can't move it normally
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). We can treat them at home.
    • 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.
  2. Pain: For pain relief, give acetaminophen every 4 hours OR ibuprofen every 6 hours as needed. (See Dosage table)
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Call Your Doctor If:
    • Swollen joint or fever 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: 1/19/2009

Last Revised: 7/15/2008

Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Online

Copyright 1994-2009 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.

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