Upper Arm Bruise Causes & Treatment Options
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A bruised upper arm can be painful, restrict your range of motion, and may often appear as a purple or yellow bruise on the upper arm. Bruising on the upper arm can be cause by trauma from an injury to the bicep or tricep. Read on for more information on causes and how to reduce bruising.
Upper arm bruise symptoms
An upper arm bruise can be a painful symptom that interferes with work or other activities. Your arm may feel too tender to move, or you may worry about injuring it further. Bruises are often self-limited, meaning they simply need time to heal on their own. However, there are a few other underlying causes that can lead to bruising.
Common characteristics of an upper arm bruise
A bruise (contusion) occurs when the small blood vessels in an area of the body are damaged by trauma. This causes blood to seep into the surrounding tissues, causing the red to blue-black color often associated with bruises. A bruise will stay visible until the blood is either absorbed by the surrounding tissue or cleared by the immune system.
Common accompanying symptoms
An upper arm bruise is often related to trauma or injury, and you may experience other symptoms such as:
- Feeling of shoulder instability
- Warmth or redness of the shoulder area
- Limited range of motion
- Decreased strength
- Bruising in other parts of the body
- Frequent, large bruising
If your bruise is related to an injury, you should see a medical provider promptly. An upper arm bruise from should be monitored regardless since bruising can be related to serious causes. If your upper arm bruise does not improve over time, you should follow-up with your physician.
Causes of an upper arm bruise
Most upper arm bruises are associated with traumatic events; however, there are some cases where bruising occurs without an obvious injury.
Upper arm structure
When referring to the upper arm, most people think about the shoulder. The shoulder is a very mobile and vulnerable part of the body. It consists of the shoulder blade (scapula), the collarbone (clavicle) and the bone of the upper arm (humerus). The head of the humerus sits in a socket of the scapula called the glenoid. There is a ring of tissue that surrounds the glenoid socket (labrum) that keeps all of these components supported and stabilized.
Traumatic causes of an upper arm bruise may include the following.
- Fracture: Any activities that cause direct trauma to the shoulder area can result in a fracture that can cause bruising and other associated symptoms. Traumatic injuries include falling on an outstretched arm, a direct blow to the shoulder that results from a motor vehicle accident, or even falling from a bicycle.
- Dislocation/Separation: These can also occur in the setting of traumatic events but usually do not involve any broken bones. Often the ligaments that hold the different parts of the shoulder are stretched or injured, or the humerus may pop out of the socket that holds the shoulder in place. These injuries can also cause bruising as the small blood vessels in the area can be damaged.
- Abuse: Domestic violence and other forms of abuse can result in a bruised upper arm. If you are the victim of abuse, there are many resources you can pursue anonymously that can provide help and support.
Hematologic causes of bruising refer to disorders in blood products or vessels. These disorders can be hereditary (genetic) or acquired later from infections, rheumatologic disease, or systemic disease.
- Functional: Medical conditions that affect the way different components of your blood function can result in bruising in the back and other parts of the body. For example, von Willebrand disease is a disorder that involves problems with proteins that clot the blood, so bleeding and bruising happen easily.
- Synthetic: Your liver, and to a lesser extent, your kidney, are organs that are very important in making the components of your blood that regulate bleeding. If there is a malfunction in these organs, you may experience bruising in different parts of the body.
- Quantitative: Some conditions result in low numbers of different blood components that are essential in clotting. For example, some autoimmune diseases attack and destroy platelets in the body resulting in easy bruising.
Environmental causes of an upper arm bruise may be related to lifestyle habits or certain exposures.
- Medication: People with conditions such as heart disease may take medications that inhibit clotting or decrease platelet production to prevent dangerous clots in the heart, called anticoagulants. However, in traumatic situations, bleeding takes longer to stop. More blood leaks into the skin’s tissues and causes a bigger bruise.
- Diet: Vitamins such as vitamin B12, C, and K are necessary for clotting and stabilizing blood vessels. Malnutrition and diets that are deficient in these necessary components can make you more likely to bruise.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the tricep are common, often due to minor injury.
Top Symptoms: constant upper arm pain, tricep injury, pain in one tricep, swelling of one arm, upper arm bruise
Symptoms that always occur with bruised tricep: tricep injury, constant upper arm pain
A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the bicep are common due to minor injuries.
Top Symptoms: constant upper arm pain, recent bicep injury, pain in one bicep, swelling of one arm, upper arm bruise
Symptoms that always occur with bicep bruise: recent bicep injury, constant upper arm pain
Upper arm bruise treatments and relief
Most bruises caused by trauma, as long as it's minor, can be treated at home. The RICE (Rest, ice, compress, elevate) method can be used to help heal a bruised upper arm. Even though these strategies may resolve the bruise, the underlying cause may not be completely addressed in every case. It is very important to follow-up any traumatic event to rule out fractures or dislocations.
- Rest: Limit activity, especially anything that involves swinging or using the arms excessively.
- Ice: Put an ice pack on your upper arm about every 15 minutes to reduce further leakage of blood.
- Compression: Compress your upper arm and help limit swelling with an elastic bandage.
- Elevation: Elevate the arm over the level of your heart. You can do this sitting down and propping your arm up on an object.
When to see a doctor
Bruising in the setting of injury (especially if there are no broken bones or organ injury) is a normal part of the healing process. However, if your bruising persists or does not resolve in two to three weeks, make sure to make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Persistent bruising may be a sign of an underlying cause, in which your physician may suggest the following.
- Replacement therapies: If your symptoms are related to blood disorders, your physician may suggest injections or treatments to make up for what your body is lacking.
- Medication adjustments: If your symptoms are related to medication, do not stop taking medications on your own. Always discuss medication changes with your doctor first.
While it is not really possible to prevent all bruises, you can take certain precautions to limit your risk of developing a bruise on your upper arm. Make sure to keep your living spaces well-lit and limit the amount of furniture or other objects that stick out. You can also use rubber mats or adhesives in your shower or tub to limit falls. You should be careful when exercising or doing other activities, such as home improvements, and do not overexert yourself.
FAQs about upper arm bruise
Is an upper arm bruise life-threatening?
Usually, an upper arm bruise is not life-threatening; however, there are serious conditions, such as compartment syndrome, that can be associated with bruising. Compartment syndrome is a situation in which increased pressure within a confined space leads to the inadequate blood supply to that body part. Usually, compartment syndrome is associated with severe trauma and symptoms such as numbness, paralysis, lack of pulse and changes in the color of the affected extremity.
How does vitamin C deficiency increase my chances for bruising?
Vitamin C is an important regulator of collagen synthesis and connective tissue stability. The human body does not synthesize vitamin C and relies on dietary sources from foods such as fruits and vegetables. Increased bleeding and bruising occurs from the breakdown of capillary walls, allowing blood to seep to the surface of the skin.
How long does it take a bruise to heal?
Most upper arm bruises can heal on their own at home especially if there is no fracture involved. It usually takes weeks for complete healing; however, pain and swelling can resolve within a few days. If an object was dropped on the arm or the bruising is due to an underlying condition, healing may take significantly longer.
Should I use my arm if I have a bruise?
Being active with an upper arm bruise, especially if it is due to a fracture, is not advised. If you experience an upper arm bruise, make an appointment with your physician for advice. Using the arm prematurely may delay the proper healing of the affected arm and cause more pain.
Is it normal for a fractured shoulder to bruise?
Yes, it is normal for a fractured shoulder to bruise. Fracturing a bone in the shoulder causes direct injury and damage to the delicate blood vessels throughout the area. The trauma causes blood to seep into the surrounding tissues, causing the red to blue-black color often associated with bruises.
Questions your doctor may ask about upper arm bruise
- Where on your upper arm is the pain?
- Do you have a rash?
- Did you recently experience an injury to the upper arm area?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.