Should Your Child See a Doctor?
- Pain in the arms (shoulder to fingers)
- Includes shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger joints
- The pain is not due to a known injury
- Minor muscle strain and overuse injury are covered in this topic
- Arm pains are unusual
- Main Causes: Strained muscles from overuse injury (e.g., excessive throwing or swimming)
- Brief pains (1 to 15 minutes) are usually due to muscle spasms. These usually occur in the hand and follow prolonged writing or typing.
- Continuous acute pains (hours to 7 days) are usually due to overstrenuous activities or forgotten muscle injuries during the preceding day. These are most common in the shoulder area.
- Mild muscle aches also occur with many viral illnesses.
- Serious Causes: fractures, arthritis (joint infection) and neuritis (nerve infection)
When to Call Your Doctor for Arm Pain
Call 911 If…
- Your child is not moving or too weak to stand
Call Your Doctor Now (night or day) If
- Your child looks or acts very sick
- Can't use arm normally
- Fever is present
- Can't move a joint normally
- Swollen joint
- Bright red area on skin
- Muscle weakness (loss of strength)
- Numbness (loss of sensation) present over 1 hour
- Severe pain or cries when arm touched or moved
Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If
- You think your child needs to be seen
Call Your Doctor During Weekday Office Hours If
- You have other questions or concerns
- Cause of arm pain is uncertain
- Arm pain present over 7 days
- Arm pains or muscle cramps are a recurrent chronic problem
Parent Care at Home If
- Caused by strained muscles from excessive use
- Cause is obvious and harmless (e.g.,sliver that's removed, a recent shot)
Home Care Advice for Overuse Injury (STRAINED MUSCLES)
- Strained muscles are very common following vigorous activity (overuse injury) (e.g., repeatedly throwing a ball). You can treat them at home.
- Local Cold: Apply a cold pack or ice bag wrapped in a wet cloth to the sore muscles for 20 minutes several times on the first 2 days.
- Pain: For pain relief, give acetaminophen every 4 hours OR ibuprofen every 6 hours as needed. (See Dosage table)
- Hot Bath: If stiffness persists over 48 hours, have your child relax in a hot bath for 20 minutes 2 times per day, and gently exercise the involved part under water.
- Expected Course: A strained muscle hurts for 2 or 3 days. The pain often peaks on day 2. Following severe overuse, the pain may last a week.
- Call Your Doctor If:
- Fever or swollen joint occurs
- Pain caused by work or exercise persists over 7 days
- Pain becomes worse
And remember, contact your doctor if your child develops any of the "When to Call Your Doctor" symptoms.
- Brenner JS and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Overuse injuries, overtraining, and burnout in child and adolescent athletes. Pediatrics. 2007;119(6):1242-1246.
- Feiste JE, et al. After the flu: Acute viral myositis. Contemp Pediatr. 1995;12(3):29-52.
- Inocencio JD. Musculoskeletal pain in primary pediatric care: Analysis of 1000 consecutive general pediatric clinic visits. Pediatrics. 1998;102(6). URL:
- Morse JW, Ridenour R, Unterseher P: Trichinosis. Infrequent diagnosis or frequent misdiagnosis? Ann Emerg Med. 1994;24:969-971.
- Waanders NA, Hellerstein E, Ballock RT. Nursemaid's elbow: Pulling out the diagnosis. Contemp Pediatr. 2000;17(6):87-96.
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.
Author and Senior Reviewer: Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 8/1/2010
Last Revised: 9/13/2010 6:26:40 PM
Copyright 1994-2011 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.