What Causes Armpit Pain & How to Address Your Symptoms

Pain in the armpit can be caused by skin conditions that include infected hair follicles, ingrown hairs, or inflammation from deodorants ot lotions. Sore armpits can also be caused by enlarged lymph nodes or trauma from an injury to the shoulder or upper arm. Other causes for underarm pain can arise from breast pain or nerve damage that can affect the neck and arm. Read below for more information on causes and how to find pain under armpit relief.

Armpit Pain Explained

You may be experiencing armpit pain due to skin problems or those that lie deeper. The skin of the armpits is particularly prone to irritation due to constant moisture and rubbing throughout the course of the day. As for deeper structures, the armpit contains some of the body's lymph nodes, which are responsible for draining fluid and waste products from other parts of the body. Lymph nodes play an important role in getting rid of local or systemic infections.

The armpit also contains nerves that can get compressed, causing pain. Processes affecting the breasts can affect the armpits as well.

Common accompanying symptoms of armpit pain

If you're experiencing armpit pain, you may also experience:

What Causes Pain or Soreness Under the Armpit?

The following details may help you better understand your symptoms. For armpit pain that worsens or persists, however, you should see a physician for a proper diagnosis.

Skin problems

Skin issues, such as the following, may result in armpit pain.

  • Infection: Armpit skin is prone to infection of the hair follicles or skin folds, which can be painful.
  • Irritants: Deodorant or lotions can contain irritating substances that cause an itchy and uncomfortable rash when applied to the armpit.
  • Ingrown hair: Shaving the armpit can cause recently cut hair to grow into the skin, causing a small painful armpit bump.
  • Chronic inflammation: A condition known as hidradenitis suppurativa causes recurrent inflamed and painful armpit lumps, possibly with smelly discharge, in the armpits and groin.

Lymph node problems

Issues of the lymph nodes may result in armpit pain.

  • Systemic infection: A systemic viral infection such as mononucleosis can cause swollen and painful lymph nodes throughout the body, including in the armpit.
  • Lymph node infection: If swelling and pain are restricted to the lymph nodes of one armpit, the cause could be an infection of one or more lymph nodes caused by a nearby infection such as a cut.
  • Pain syndromes: Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are medical conditions characterized by chronic pain. They can cause painful swollen lymph nodes, including in the armpits.
  • Cancer: In rare cases, painful enlargement of lymph nodes in the armpit could be a sign of cancer or lymphoma. One possible sign of this would be that the pain worsens after drinking alcohol. Most of the time, a painful lymph node is very unlikely to be cancerous.

Other causes

Other various causes of armpit pain may include the following.

  • Breast pain: Some people have monthly breast pain at the time of the menstrual period. This type of pain often radiates to the armpits.
  • Nerve injury: Rarely, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19591159 that travel through the neck and armpit down the arm can cause armpit pain. In this condition, there will also be a pain in the neck and arm, as well as tingling in the hand.
  • Heart attack: During a heart attack, pain may radiate from the chest to the left arm or armpit. Usually, armpit pain will not be the only symptom.

This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.


Cellulitis is a bacterial infection of the deep layers of the skin. It can appear anywhere on the body but is most common on the feet, lower legs, and face.

The condition can develop if Staphylococcus bacteria enter broken skin through a cut, scrape, or existing skin infection such as impetigo or eczema.

Most susceptible are those with a weakened immune system, as from corticosteroids or chemotherapy, or with impaired circulation from diabetes or any vascular disease.

Symptoms arise somewhat gradually and include sore, reddened skin.

If not treated, the infection can become severe, form pus, and destroy the tissue around it. In rare cases, the infection can cause blood poisoning or meningitis.

Symptom of severe pain, fever, cold sweats, and fast heartbeat should be seen immediately by a medical provider.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination.

Treatment consists of antibiotics, keeping the wound clean, and sometimes surgery to remove any dead tissue. Cellulitis often recurs, so it is important to treat any underlying conditions and improve the immune system with rest and good nutrition.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: fever, chills, facial redness, swollen face, face pain

Symptoms that always occur with cellulitis: facial redness, area of skin redness

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Non-specific breast pain

Nonspecific breast pain, also called mastalgia or mastodynia, refers to tenderness or pain in the breast with no obvious cause. It almost always proves to have a benign (non-cancerous) cause.

Breast pain is most common in women aged 35 to 50 and still experiencing menstruation. Fibrocystic changes are common in this age group, where tiny, fluid-filled sacs form within breast tissue and might be felt as small, tender, but non-cancerous lumps.

Birth control pills, hormone replacement therapy, caffeine, and soy can cause breast tenderness in women of any age. A breast infection can cause painful lumps.

A medical provider should be seen, in order to rule out any serious condition and get treatment for the discomfort.

Diagnosis is made through patient history; physical examination; mammogram or breast ultrasound; and sometimes biopsy.

A breast infection will be treated with antibiotics. Large, painful cysts may have the fluid drained or be surgically removed. Lifestyle improvements regarding diet and exercise are often helpful, as well as adjustments to birth control pills or hormone therapy.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: breast pain, breast swelling, armpit pain

Symptoms that always occur with non-specific breast pain: breast pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit

Enlarged lymph nodes occur when the node becomes larger as it fills with inflammatory cells. This often is a result of an infection but can occur without a known cause.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: armpit lump, movable armpit lump

Symptoms that always occur with enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit: armpit lump

Symptoms that never occur with enlarged lymph nodes in the armpit: fever, unintentional weight loss, hard lump in the armpit

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Shoulder strain

Shoulder strain means that the muscles and/or the tendons in the shoulder have been overstretched to the point of damage and sometimes partial tearing. (A "sprain" means that ligaments have been damaged.)

Because of its wide range of motion, the shoulder is a relatively unstable joint that is vulnerable to injury. A sudden overloading, especially after long periods of overuse, can finally cause some degree of tearing to the muscle fibers and/or the tendons.

Shoulder strains are most often sports injuries, or are caused by strenuous physical labor.

Symptoms include sudden sharp pain followed by swelling, bruising, and ongoing tenderness.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and sometimes ultrasound.

Treatment involves a short period of rest, followed by gradually increasing exercise to regain strength and prevent stiffness and weakness of the muscles and tendons. Physical therapy will be tailored to the individual and some skills, such as for sports, may need to be relearned. Improving posture while sitting, and adjusting techniques for work and sports, can help prevent recurrence of the strain.

Rarity: Uncommon

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, pain in the front of the shoulder, shoulder pain from overuse, shoulder pain from an injury, sports injury

Symptoms that always occur with shoulder strain: pain in one shoulder

Symptoms that never occur with shoulder strain: arm weakness, arm numbness

Urgency: Phone call or in-person visit

Chest pain from reduced cardiac blood flow (angina pectoris)

Angina pectoris is chest pain that is felt when heart muscle needs more blood than it is currently getting. This may result from coronary artery disease (CAD). CAD happens when the arteries that supply blood to heart muscle become hardened and narrowed. This is due to the buildup of cholesterol and other material, called plaque, on their inner walls.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: chest pain, chest pain, tight, heavy, squeezing chest pain, moderate chest pain, deep chest pain, behind the breast bone

Symptoms that always occur with chest pain from reduced cardiac blood flow (angina pectoris): chest pain

Symptoms that never occur with chest pain from reduced cardiac blood flow (angina pectoris): productive cough

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Allergic contact dermatitis of the armpit

Allergic contact dermatitis is a condition in which the skin becomes irritated and inflamed following physical contact with an allergen. Common products known to cause allergic dermatitis include plants, metals, soap, fragrance, and cosmetics.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: armpit redness, armpit itch, scabbed armpit bump

Symptoms that always occur with allergic contact dermatitis of the armpit: armpit redness

Urgency: Self-treatment

Shingles (herpes zoster)

Shingles is a painful rash that results when the varicella zoster virus (VZV) — the same virus that causes the chickenpox — becomes reactivated. It results in a painful rash of small fluid-filled blisters (vesicles) over a single strip of skin on one side of the body...

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How and When to Treat Armpit Pain

In most cases, armpit pain does not require immediate treatment. However, urgent evaluation could be necessary if the armpit pain is a sign of serious skin or lymph node infection since it can spread to the rest of the body if untreated. Emergency care is also needed if there are signs that the armpit pain is occurring due to a heart attack.

When it is an emergency

You should seek emergency treatment if you experience the following.

  • A high fever and chills
  • There are signs of infection: The armpit and/or an injury on the same arm as the painful armpit appear to be infected (red, warm, and/or oozing fluid).
  • Chest pain, nausea, sweating, and/or difficulty breathing

When to see a doctor

A physical exam and possibly laboratory studies can help establish a diagnosis for armpit pain that worsens or persists. Make an appointment with your doctor if you experience the following.

  • Enlarged lymph nodes or painful skin bumps that have lasted more than a couple of weeks
  • A previously diagnosed skin condition: Particularly one that is causing armpit pain symptoms and getting worse or not responding to your usual treatment.
  • Weight loss, fevers, and/or night sweats
  • Enlarged lymph nodes that are only painful after drinking alcohol
  • Tingling in your hand on the same side as the armpit pain

Medical treatments

Your doctor may prescribe one or more of the following treatments, depending on the cause.

  • Antibiotics to treat infection
  • Drainage of infected fluid
  • Pain medication
  • Steroid cream: This can be used to treat a rash caused by an irritating substance like deodorant.
  • Referral to a dermatologist
  • Referral to a surgeon: This is to consider the removal of recurring painful lumps, in the case of hidradenitis suppurativa.

At-home treatments

Some home treatments may help with the pain.

  • Avoid potentially irritating substances: Such as deodorant
  • Wash the armpit before and after shaving: Or avoid shaving altogether
  • Use a warm compress on the armpit
  • Avoid tight and sweaty clothing
  • Exercise: If the armpit pain is associated with a pain syndrome like fibromyalgia, aerobic exercise may help.
  • NSAIDs: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help

FAQs About Armpit Pain

What does it mean if you have a sore lump in your armpit?

A sore lump under the skin of the armpit could be an enlarged lymph node. A swollen, painful lymph node in the armpit may indicate a nearby infection, such as an infected cut on the arm. A small lump on the surface of the skin could be due to an ingrown hair. Larger skin lumps with discharge and pain may be due to an inflammatory condition called hidradenitis suppurativa.

Why do I have a sharp pain in my armpit?

Sharp armpit pain could be referred from the breast. Breast pain can occur at the time of menstrual periods and can radiate to one or both armpits. Armpit pain is rarely a sign of a heart attack, especially if you are also having other symptoms like chest pain, sweating, nausea, or difficulty breathing. However, the discomfort associated with a heart attack usually feels like pressure or burning rather than sharp pain.

Can deodorant cause pain in the armpits?

Some types of deodorant contain irritating substances that can cause an allergic reaction in the armpit. The allergic reaction causes a red, itchy, uncomfortable rash. The rash should resolve if you stop using the deodorant. Try to avoid scratching the rash, since excessive scratching can disrupt the skin and lead to a skin infection.

Do swollen lymph nodes hurt?

Swollen lymph nodes may or may not be painful depending on the cause. Lymph nodes that are enlarged due to local or systemic infection are often painful. In addition, lymph nodes may be painful if you have a pain syndrome such as fibromyalgia. Enlarged lymph nodes are usually not painful if they are caused by cancer or an immune system condition such as lupus.

What causes swollen lymph nodes in the armpit?

Swollen lymph nodes in the armpit can be caused by a systemic illness like the flu, in which case other lymph nodes will also be swollen. If only armpit lymph nodes are swollen, they may be reacting to a nearby infection. Lymphoma and breast cancer are serious potential causes. In this case, the lymph nodes are usually hard, painless, and fixed in one spot.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Armpit Pain

  • Do you have a rash?
  • Do you drink alcohol?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with anorexia?
  • Were you ever been diagnosed with bulimia?

Self-diagnose with our free if you answer yes on any of these questions.

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