Should Your Child See a Doctor?
Is this your child's symptom?
- Pain in the arm (shoulder to fingers)
- Includes shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints
- Includes minor muscle strains from hard work or sports (overuse)
- Pain is not caused by an injury
Causes of Arm Pain
- Muscle Overuse (Strained Muscles). Arm pains are often from hard muscle work or sports. Examples are too much throwing or swimming. They are most common in the shoulder. This type of pain can last from hours up to 7 days.
- Muscle Cramps. Brief pains that last 1 to 15 minutes are often due to muscle cramps. These occur in the hand after too much writing or typing.
- Viral Illness. Mild muscle aches in both arms also occur with many viral illnesses.
- Septic Arthritis (Serious). This is a bacterial infection of a joint space. Main symptoms are fever and severe pain with movement of the joint. Range of motion is limited or absent (a "frozen joint").
- Mild: Your child feels pain and tells you about it. But, the pain does not keep your child from any normal activities. School, play and sleep are not changed.
- Moderate: The pain keeps your child from doing some normal activities. It may wake him or her up from sleep.
- Severe: The pain is very bad. It keeps your child from doing all normal activities.
When to Call for Arm Pain
Call 911 Now
- Not moving or too weak to stand
- You think your child has a life-threatening emergency
Call Doctor Now or Go to ER
- Can't use arm or hand normally
- Can't move the shoulder, elbow or wrist normally
- Swollen joint
- Muscles are weak (loss of strength)
- Numbness (loss of feeling) present over 1 hour
- Severe pain or cries when arm is touched or moved
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- You think your child needs to be seen, and the problem is urgent
Call Doctor Within 24 Hours
- Fever is present
- Bright red area on skin
- You think your child needs to be seen, but the problem is not urgent
Call Doctor During Office Hours
- Cause of arm pain is not clear
- Arm pain lasts more than 7 days
- Arm pains or muscle cramps are a frequent problem
- You have other questions or concerns
Self Care at Home
- Caused by overusing the muscles
- Cause is clear and harmless. (Examples are a sliver that's removed or a recent shot)
Seattle Children’s Urgent Care Locations
If your child’s illness or injury is life-threating, call 911.
Care Advice for Strained Arm Muscles
- What You Should Know About Mild Arm Pain:
- Strained muscles are common after using them too much during sports.
- An example is throwing a ball over and over again.
- Weekend warriors who are out of shape get the most muscle pains.
- Here is some care advice that should help.
- Pain Medicine:
- To help with the pain, give an acetaminophen product (such as Tylenol).
- Another choice is an ibuprofen product (such as Advil).
- Use as needed.
- Cold Pack for Pain:
- For pain or swelling, use a cold pack. You can also use ice wrapped in a wet cloth.
- Put it on the sore muscles for 20 minutes.
- Repeat 4 times on the first day, then as needed.
- Caution: Avoid frostbite.
- Use Heat After 48 Hours:
- If pain lasts over 2 days, put heat on the sore muscle.
- Use a heat pack, heating pad or warm wet washcloth.
- Do this for 10 minutes, then as needed.
- Reason: Increase blood flow and improve healing.
- Caution: Avoid burns.
- What to Expect:
- A strained muscle hurts for 2 or 3 days.
- The pain often peaks on day 2.
- After severe overuse, the pain may last a week.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Fever or swollen joint occurs
- Pain caused by work or sports lasts over 7 days
- You think your child needs to be seen
- Pain gets worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.
Disclaimer: This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. It is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information.
Last Reviewed: 03/19/2018
Last Revised: 05/07/2017
Copyright 1994-2017 Schmitt Pediatric Guidelines LLC. All rights reserved.