Swedish Kids Symptom Checker

Swedish Kids Symptom Checker

Back to Index

Arm Pain

1. Does this describe your child's symptoms?


  • 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)

2. When to Call Your Doctor

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
  • You think your child needs to be seen urgently

Call Your Doctor Within 24 Hours (between 9 am and 4 pm) If

  • You think your child needs to be seen, but not urgently

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)

Call 911 Now (your child may need an ambulance) If

  • Not moving or too weak to stand


  • Reassurance: 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 Medicine: For pain relief, give acetaminophen OR ibuprofen 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 'Call Your Doctor' symptoms.


  • This information is not intended 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: 9/15/2011 12:00:00 AM
  • Last Revised: 8/1/2011 3:08:36 PM
  • Content Set: Pediatric HouseCalls Symptom Checker
  • Copyright 1994-2012 Barton D. Schmitt, M.D.
If this is an emergency call 911 immediately.

iPhone App Now Available

Swedish Kids Symptom Checker is designed especially for these times. The interactive iPhone application can help you make appropriate decisions on what level of care, if any, is needed and how to provide symptom relief for minor illnesses and injuries you can manage on your own.

Read More

If you don't see your child's symptoms, please see these topics: