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Significant Loss of Muscle Mass in The Arms Symptoms & Causes

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Last updated August 27, 2020

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Understand significant loss of muscle mass in the arms symptoms, including 4 causes & common questions.

4 possible significant loss of muscle mass in the arms causes

Pinched nerve in the neck

A pinched nerve in the neck is also called cervical radiculopathy. It means that a nerve in the neck, at a point where it branches off from the spinal cord, is being compressed by the surrounding bones, muscles, or other tissues.

It can be caused by a traumatic injury, such as from sports or an automobile accident, especially if the injury results in a herniated disk. It may also arise from the normal wear and tear of aging.

Symptoms include sharp, burning pain with numbness and tingling from the neck to the shoulder, as well as weakness and numbness into the arm and hand.

Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, and simple neurological tests to check the reflexes. Imaging such as x-ray, CT scan, or MRI may be done, as well as electromyography to measure nerve impulses in the muscles.

A pinched nerve in the neck often improves with simply a few days or weeks of rest. Physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and steroid injections into the spine can all be very helpful.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, pain that radiates down arm, pain in the back of the neck, severe shoulder pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Idiopathic inflammatory myopathy

Idiopathic inflammatory myopathy refers to a closely related group of conditions that cause inflammation of muscle tissue.

Make an appointment with a physician to determine exactly what subtype of inflammatory myopathy you are experiencing. The physician will most likely prescribe a oral steroid to reduce inflammation and put in an IV to protect the kidneys.

Cushing syndrome

Cushing syndrome is a hormonal disorder that occurs when there is too much of the stress hormone cortisol in the body. It can be caused by taking steroid medications commonly prescribed for asthma or arthritis, or by problems with the glands in the body that are involved in creating cortisol. Symptoms can vary from person to person but often include easy bruising, a "hump" on the back, and stretch marks. Fatigue, large stomach, red round face, and high blood sugar may also occur.

You should consider visiting a medical professional in the next week or two to discuss your symptoms. Cushing syndrome can be evaluated with a review of your symptoms and medical history, as well as blood tests. Treatment depends on the cause of your condition. If caused by steroid medication, you may be instructed to lower the dosage slowly over time. If caused by issues with your glands, surgery, radiation, or medication may be an option.

Rarity: Rare

Top Symptoms: fatigue, headache, depressed mood, weight gain, back pain

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Chronic idiopathic peripheral neuropathy

Peripheral neuropathy refers to the feeling of numbness, tingling, and pins-and-needles sensation in the feet. Idiopathic means the cause is not known, and chronic means the condition is ongoing without getting better or worse.

The condition is most often found in people over age 60. Idiopathic neuropathy has no known cause.

Symptoms include uncomfortable numbness and tingling in the feet; difficulty standing or walking due to pain and lack of normal sensitivity; and weakness and cramping in the muscles of the feet and ankles.

Peripheral neuropathy can greatly interfere with quality of life, so a medical provider should be seen in order to treat the symptoms and reduce the discomfort.

Diagnosis is made through physical examination; blood tests to rule out other conditions; and neurologic and muscle studies such as electromyography.

Treatment involves over-the-counter pain relievers; prescription pain relievers to manage more severe pain; physical therapy and safety measures to compensate for loss of sensation in the feet; and therapeutic footwear to help with balance and walking.

Brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue)

A shoulder nerve injury, also called brachial plexopathy, is when damage occurs to a network of nerves in the front of the shoulder known as the brachial plexus. This damage can occur from injury, inflammation, radiation therapy, or other medical conditions. Symptoms include sharp pain in the shoulder, arm, or hand. Numbness or weakness in the shoulder or arm may also occur.

You should consider visiting a medical professional to discuss your symptoms. A doctor can evaluate shoulder nerve issues with a review of your symptoms and medical history. You might also be asked to do an EMG, a test that checks the connection between muscles and nerves. Once diagnosed, some options for treatment include pain or nerve block medication, physical therapy, and braces or splints. Some cases may require surgery. Depending on the severity, recovery times can range from weeks to years.

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is also called ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease. It is a degenerative disease that destroys nerve cells, which eventually leads to loss of control over muscle function.

The cause of ALS is not known. It may be inherited and/or due to a chemical imbalance, faulty autoimmune response, or exposure to toxic environmental agents.

Symptoms include weakness; difficulty with speaking, swallowing, walking, or using the hands; and muscle cramps. The muscles of the arms, hands, legs, and feet are most involved at first. It does not affect the senses or a person's mental ability.

ALS is progressive, meaning it worsens over time. There is no cure, but supportive care can keep the patient comfortable and improve quality of life.

Diagnosis is made through several tests including blood tests; urine tests; MRI; electromyography (EMG) to measure muscle activity; nerve conduction studies; and sometimes muscle biopsy or spinal tap (lumbar puncture.)

Treatment involves medications to both slow the progression of the disease and ease the symptoms; respiratory therapy; physical therapy; occupational therapy; and psychological support.

2 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes is also known as adult-onset diabetes, because it is the result of lifestyle and is not hereditary. Diabetes of any type is the condition where the body does not produce enough insulin to process the sugars in food.

Risk factors include obesity, overeating high-carbohydrate foods, lack of exercise, pregnancy, and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS.)

Early symptoms include increased thirst; frequent urination; weight loss despite increased appetite; blurred vision; infections that are slow to heal; and blood sugar somewhat higher than normal.

It is important to get treatment at the first sign of these symptoms, because the high blood sugar levels can cause serious organ damage. Heart disease, neuropathy, kidney damage, and blindness can all result from untreated diabetes.

Diagnosis is made through a series of blood tests to measure blood sugar levels.

Type 2 diabetes cannot be cured, but it can be managed through lifestyle changes. A diet which eliminates refined carbohydrates and controls calories; regular exercise; regular blood sugar monitoring; and sometimes insulin or other medications will all be recommended.

Rarity: Common

Top Symptoms: fatigue, increased appetite compared to normal, vision changes, feeling itchy or tingling all over, excesive thirst

Urgency: Primary care doctor

Questions your doctor may ask about significant loss of muscle mass in the arms

  • Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
  • Have you ever been diagnosed with cancer?
  • Have you recently suffered from an infection of any kind including a cold or the flu?
  • Did you just suffer from a high impact injury (e.g., a fall, collision, accident or sports trauma)?

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

Significant loss of muscle mass in the arms symptom checker statistics

People who have experienced significant loss of muscle mass in the arms have also experienced:

  • 10% Fatigue
  • 3% Muscle Aches
  • 2% General Weakness

People who have experienced significant loss of muscle mass in the arms were most often matched with:

  • 33% Cushing Syndrome
  • 33% Type 2 Diabetes
  • 33% Pinched Nerve In The Neck

Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant.

Hear what 1 other is saying
My arms are shrinkingPosted March 6, 2021 by N.
I'm 63 yrs old. About 2 years ago, I noticed that my forearms were, strangely, getting smaller. MUCH smaller. Embarrassingly smaller. Mistake # 1; I did nothing. I fretted. I complained. I did not 'Google'—"My arms are getting smaller" until I hurt myself. 8 months ago my wife and I undertook moving storage from one building to another. Then from there, we moved all, again, into our new home. Then moving belongings from another house to our new home. Friend, dear readers, listen up: As I am writing this moment—the 'pads,' the 8 fingertips in both hands—along with the meaty palms—are almost completely numb. February 4, I had a "Nerve Conduction Test" in both arms. GREAT NEWS: Diagnosis rendered—not a neck or cervical injury. Through my neglect of noticing my 'sarcopenia' and doing nothing to recover, and performing bull work as if I was still bull strong—I injured the nerves (carpal tunnel) in both shoulders, both elbows and wrists. I am with incredible doctors and am told that my issues can be remedied with 1 and 2 stitch incisions in all 6 affected areas. My neurologist is a young athletic man (he's not the surgeon for this, but I started with him). He has assured me that after these corrective surgeries, with major dietary changes, I can get started on a "rest of my life" regimen of resistance training that will minimize muscle loss in my whole body. Leaving my destiny in my hands. I thank God out loud that I do not need neck or spinal surgery.

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