Read below about arm weakness, including causes, treatment options and remedies. Or get a personalized analysis of your arm weakness from our A.I. health assistant. At Buoy, we build tools that help you know what’s wrong right now and how to get the right care.

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Arm Weakness Symptoms

Arm weakness, or paresis or palsy, is the inability to raise your arms all the way up. It does not include being unable to move the arms at all, which is called paralysis. Depending on the accompanying symptoms, weakness in both arms is usually not as concerning as sudden weakness in just one arm.

Characteristics of arm weakness symptoms:

  • Objective weakness is physical weakness in the muscle that can be measured and verified by a medical provider.
  • Subjective weakness is only perceived by the patient and cannot be measured or verified by anyone else. This can be the result of trying to avoid moving the arm due to pain, known as "guarding." It can make the person feel as though the arm is weak, even when it actually is not.
  • The arm weakness may be accompanied by other symptoms, all on the same side of the body:

Who is most often affected by arm weakness symptoms?

  • Anyone with high blood pressure is at risk for stroke, especially if there is also obesity and/or smoking.
  • Anyone with atrial fibrillation is at risk for stroke. One of the symptoms of stroke is one-sided arm weakness.
  • Anyone who works long hours doing repetitive physical work, or sports, can be at risk for damage, numbness, and weakness in one or both arms.
  • Newborns may have temporary weakness of one arm due to injury of the shoulder nerves during the birth process.

Are arm weakness symptoms serious?

  • Arm weakness following overuse, or heavy exercise such as weight lifting, will usually resolve with rest.
  • Arm weakness along with pain in the neck or shoulder should be treated by your medical provider as soon as possible.
  • Sudden arm weakness with severe headache, along with difficulty moving or speaking, is a very serious symptom that must be treated right away.

Arm Weakness Causes Overview

Blockage or rupture of an artery in the brain.

  • The blockage or rupture may cause severe symptoms that do not go away and must be treated immediately.
  • The blockage may be temporary, or transient, and clear up on its own after a few hours or minutes. However, it should still be treated right away since it is a serious warning signal.

Injury.

  • Direct trauma, as from a fall or an accident, can cause localized nerve or muscle damage in the arm itself.
  • An overuse injury, which is also called repetitive strain injury (RSI,) can become permanent if not treated. It is caused by long-term damage to nerves, muscles, and tendons in the arm or shoulder from long periods of exercising the arm with the same motion.

    • Simple fatigue from unaccustomed exercise can cause RSI, too.
    • Carpal tunnel syndrome is a form of overuse that can cause pain, guarding, and subjective weakness in the affected arm.

Damage to nerves or disks in the neck and upper back.

These conditions may cause pain in the upper back and neck. The arm may seem weak because it causes pain in the back and neck when moved, and so the person "guards" the arm and tries not to use it.

  • A rupture or other damage to a cervical disk which is the cushioning material between the bones of the spine.
  • Wear and tear of the bones and cartilage due to normal aging.
  • Crowding of the nerve roots in the neck, causing arm pain and weakness.

    • Arthritis in the spine may cause bone spurs which press on the nerves.
    • Narrowing of the spinal canal may cause pressure on the spinal cord.

Rare and unusual arm weakness cause types:

  • Metabolic diseases.
  • Neuromuscular diseases.
  • Autoimmune disorders.

10 Potential Arm Weakness Causes

Disclaimer: The article does not replace an evaluation by a physician. Information on this page is provided as an information resource only, and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes.

  1. 1.Herniated (Slipped) Disk in the Upper Back

    The backbone, or spine, is made up of 26 bones called vertebrae. In between the bones are soft disks filled with a jelly-like substance. These disks cushion the vertebrae and keep them in place. Although people talk about a slipped disk, nothing actually slips out of place. The outer shell of the disk ruptures, and the jelly-like substance bulges out. It may be pressing on a nerve, which is what causes the pain.A slipped disk is more likely to happen due to strain on the back, such as during heavy lifting, and older individuals are at higher risk.

    The pain associated with a slipped disk usually goes away within six weeks. If the pain lasts longer, consult a doctor. They may send you to see a back specialist for an MRI of your spine, and surgery may be considered.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    upper back pain, neck pain, arm weakness, back pain that gets worse when sitting, upper spine pain
    Symptoms that always occur with herniated (slipped) disk in the upper back:
    upper back pain
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Whiplash

    Whiplash, a soft tissue injury to the neck, is the result of a sudden jolt to the neck. This injury most frequently occurs after a car is rear-ended.

    1 week

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    headache, pain in the back of the neck, stiff neck, arm weakness, shoulder pain from an injury
    Symptoms that always occur with whiplash:
    neck pain from an injury, pain in the back of the neck
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, new headache, leg numbness, arm numbness, stiff neck
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  4. 4.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  5. 5.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, dizziness, stiff neck, being severely ill, vision changes
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

    Arm Weakness Checker

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  6. 6.Bell's Palsy

    Bell's palsy (facial palsy) causes sudden weakness in facial muscles and makes half of the face appear to droop. The exact cause is unknown, but it's believed to be the result of swelling and inflammation of the nerve that controls the muscles on one side of your face or may be a reaction that occurs after a viral infection.

    Weeks to 6 months

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    arm weakness, facial numbness, arm weakness, hearing loss, pain on one side of the face
    Symptoms that always occur with bell's palsy:
    face weakness, weakness in one side of the face
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  7. 7.Intracerebral Hemorrhage

    Intracerebral hemorrhage occurs when a diseased blood vessel within the brain bursts, allowing blood to leak inside the brain. (The name means within the cerebrum or brain).

    Serious life-threatening condition with a high chance of death. Consultation with a brain specialist (neurosurgeon) is needed to determine outlook.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    nausea, new headache, severe headache, vomiting, stiff neck
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  8. 8.Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

    Thoracic Outlet Syndrome is the compression of the nerves and/or blood vessels that run through the upper chest. It can occur as a result of trauma, surgery, growths in the body, or just randomly.

    Resolves with treatment (30% relapse)

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, arm numbness, pain in one shoulder blade
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  9. 9.Stroke or Tia (Transient Ischemic Attack)

    A stroke is a medical emergency. Strokes happen when blood flow to the brain is stopped.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, dizziness, being severely ill, stiff neck, arm numbness
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  10. 10.Uterine Fibroids

    Uterine fibroids are noncancerous tumors in the uterus. They are common in women of childbearing age.

    Treatment ranges from medication to surgical removal of the fibroid.

    Rarity:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    vaginal bleeding, pelvis pain, abdominal cramps (stomach cramps), painful periods, irregular period
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor

Arm Weakness Treatments and Relief

Seek immediate arm weakness treatment in the emergency room or call 911 if the arm weakness is accompanied by:

  • Severe headache with weakness throughout one side of the body, including the face.
  • Total numbness in the arm with the skin appearing pale, blue, white or cold from loss of blood flow.

Schedule an appointment for:

  • Physical therapy for the symptoms of repetitive strain injury.
  • Help with smoking cessation, since smoking is a very big risk factor for stroke.

Remedies that you can try at home:

  • Look into safety measures and equipment that can help you prevent, or at least alleviate, the problems of repetitive strain injury and overuse.
  • Make improvements in diet, sleep, and exercise, in order to maintain a normal weight, relieve stress, and lower blood pressure.

Questions Your Doctor May Ask About Arm Weakness

  • Q.Do you wake up at night with numb hands?
  • Q.Where on your hand are you numb?
  • Q.Does the numbness affect one hand or both hands?
  • Q.Let's perform a quick physical exam. Close the fingers of both hands into fists. Do you feel any numbness after 60 seconds?

If you've answered yes to one or more of these questions, try our arm weakness symptom checker to find out more.

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A.I. Health Assistant

Take a quiz to find out why you’re having arm weakness

Take a quiz