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.

A.I. Health Assistant Causes for Arm Weakness

The list below shows results from the use of our A.I. Health Assistant by Buoy users who experienced arm weakness. This list does not constitute medical advice.

  1. 1.Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)

    The brachial plexus is a complex nerve network located in the upper chest and shoulder region. Nerves can be explained as 'electric wires' of the body, passing through signals from the brain to the spinal cord and from the spinal cord to the muscles. The brachial plexus is a bundle of nerves that lies deep to the collar bone, which supplies the shoulder, arm, forearm, and hand. When this bundle of nerves is (partially) damaged, one speaks of a 'plexopathy'. Several causes of damage can be injury or forceful trauma, inflammation or infection. A commonly known cause is sports injury in contact sports like football and rugby. Symptoms can include pain, burning, numbness and weakness in the shoulder and arm on one side, sometimes shooting through the arm to the hand. An acute (sports) injury that causes this condition is often called 'burners' or 'stingers' because of the burning and stinging type of pain. When the cause is inflammation of the nerves, it is often called the Parsonage-Turner syndrome.

    The severity of this condition is highly variable, and dependent on the amount of damage caused to the nerves. Brachial plexus injury following surgery usually has a good prognosis. Recovery times range from 2 weeks to 2 years.

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain
    Symptoms that never occur with brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue):
    pain in the front middle part of the neck
    Urgency:
    Primary care doctor
  2. 2.Repetitive Strain Injury of the Upper Arm

    Repetitive strain injury of the upper arm is caused by consistent repetitive use.

    Resolves with rest

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    upper arm pain from overuse, upper arm weakness, upper arm numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with repetitive strain injury of the upper arm:
    upper arm pain from overuse
    Symptoms that never occur with repetitive strain injury of the upper arm:
    upper arm injury, severe upper arm pain
    Urgency:
    Self-treatment
  3. 3.Pinched Nerve in the Neck

    With age, disks separating the cervical vertebrae (which are the bones of your spine in your neck) lose height as well as lose water content, becoming stiffer. The vertebrae move closer together, and nerves that exit between these bones may be pinched, causing pain to travel down the nerve as it passes through the arm. The pain is usually sharp, and some people report a "pins and needles" sensation or even complete numbness.

    Majority of patients get better with time (weeks to months).

    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
  4. 4.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
  5. 5.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

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  6. 6.Dislocated Shoulder With Nerve or Artery Damage

    The shoulder is a ball and socket joint. This means the round top of the arm bone fits into the groove in the shoulder blade. A dislocated shoulder is when the entire ball is out of the socket. If the dislocation affects blood supply or a nerve, medical attention is extremely important.

    3-6 weeks with treatment

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    pain in one shoulder, arm weakness, shoulder pain from an injury, severe shoulder pain, arm numbness
    Symptoms that always occur with dislocated shoulder with nerve or artery damage:
    pain in one shoulder, shoulder dislocation
    Urgency:
    Hospital emergency room
  7. 7.Heart Attack in a Woman

    Most heart attacks happen when a clot in the coronary artery blocks the supply of blood and oxygen to the heart. Often this leads to an irregular heartbeat - called an arrhythmia - that causes a severe decrease in the pumping function of the heart.

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Uncommon
    Top Symptoms:
    abdominal pain (stomach ache), nausea, pain in one arm, chest pain, shortness of breath
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  8. 8.Multiple Sclerosis (Ms)

    Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurodegenerative disease in which the immune system attacks the myelin sheath. The myelin sheath is involved in carrying nerve signals so this damage causes interruptions in nerve signaling.

    This is a lifelong condition; however, treatment may be beneficial.

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    severe fatigue, constipation, numbness, decreased sex drive, signs of optic neuritis
    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:
    Common
    Top Symptoms:
    dizziness, leg numbness, arm numbness, new headache, stiff neck
    Symptoms that never occur with stroke or tia (transient ischemic attack):
    bilateral weakness
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service
  10. 10.Subarachnoid Hemorrhage

    Subarachnoid hemorrhage is bleeding in the area between the brain and the thin tissues that cover the brain. It's typically caused by a ruptured aneurysm (out-pouching of an artery's wall).

    Indefinite

    Rarity:
    Rare
    Top Symptoms:
    new headache, being severely ill, nausea or vomiting, severe headache, vision changes
    Symptoms that always occur with subarachnoid hemorrhage:
    new headache, being severely ill
    Urgency:
    Emergency medical service

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.

Arm Weakness Symptom Checker Statistics

  • People who have experienced arm weakness have also experienced:

    • 100% Hand Numbness
  • People who have experienced arm weakness were most often matched with:

    • 42% Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)
    • 42% Pinched Nerve in the Neck
    • 14% Repetitive Strain Injury of the Upper Arm
  • Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from visits to the Buoy AI health assistant (check it out by clicking on “Take Quiz”).

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