In some cases, left arm pain may be due to an injury to the muscle tissue or bone. However, left arm pain could also be a sign of a heart attack, which requires immediate medical attention.

Being aware of the potential causes and characteristics of left arm pain can help a person recognize what the body is reacting to and determine when it is necessary to seek medical attention.

The article discusses the possible causes of left arm pain. It also looks at related symptoms that can help a person identify the underlying issue, as well as what treatments may help.

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A heart attack occurs when a portion of the heart muscle sustains damage or completely stops functioning due to a lack of oxygen.

Most heart attacks happen as a result of narrowing in the coronary arteries. The arteries become narrow due to a buildup of plaque. If a piece of plaque breaks loose from the artery wall, it can cut off the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart, which may cause a heart attack.

Left arm pain is a possible symptom of a heart attack. The nerves that branch from the heart and those coming from the arm send signals to the same brain cells. As a result, the brain cannot isolate the source of the pain.

The American Heart Association advises seeking immediate medical attention if a person experiences any of the following heart attack symptoms:

  • discomfort at the center of the chest, particularly if it lasts longer than a few minutes or goes away and then returns
  • pain, numbness, or unusual discomfort in the:
    • back
    • neck
    • jaw
    • lower abdomen
  • shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • lightheadedness
  • sudden cold sweats or flushing

Chest discomfort is the most common symptom of heart attacks. It may feel like:

  • pressure
  • tightness
  • fullness
  • burning
  • gradually building pain

People assigned female at birth are more likely to experience additional symptoms when having a heart attack.

If a person experiences any sudden combination of these symptoms, they should seek immediate medical help.

Learn more about heart attacks.

People experiencing angina feel discomfort or pain as a result of the heart getting less oxygen than it needs. It causes chest pain that may spread to the:

  • arms
  • neck
  • jaw
  • back

Angina may also feel like indigestion.

Angina is not a heart attack. However, it is a sign of a heart problem. Clogged or narrowed coronary arteries are often the cause of angina.

There are two main types of angina: stable angina and unstable angina.

Stable angina

Stable angina is a predictable and manageable type of angina. It occurs consistently for at least 2 months and only during times of physical effort or emotional stress.

These circumstances put extra strain on the heart, meaning that it needs more oxygen than the narrowed arteries allow. Rest can help a person treat stable angina. If necessary, a doctor may prescribe an artery-relaxing medication called nitroglycerin.

Unstable angina

This type of angina is more unpredictable and dangerous. It can occur even when a person is resting, meaning that the heart consistently does not get enough oxygen.

Unstable angina indicates that a person is at risk of a heart attack. A medical professional should evaluate people with unstable angina in an emergency room.

Learn more about angina.

A skeletomuscular injury might cause left arm pain. However, as symptoms of an injury may resemble those of a more serious condition such as a heart attack, it is important not to try to self-diagnose an injury or rule out a heart problem without medical assistance.

Common skeletomuscular conditions that might cause arm pain include the following:


Left arm pain may be a symptom of shoulder bursitis, which may result from overusing this joint. If the bursa sustains direct trauma or becomes infected, this may also contribute to left arm pain.

Bursitis is inflammation of the bursa. A bursa is a fluid-filled sac that acts as a cushion between a bone and its surrounding soft tissue.

Learn more about bursitis.


Tendonitis is the inflammation of the connective tissue between muscle and bone. Tendonitis often develops due to repetitive joint use. For this reason, tennis players, swimmers, and musicians often get tendonitis.

Tendonitis in the shoulder or elbow could be the source of left arm pain.

Learn more about tendonitis.

Rotator cuff tear

The rotator cuff is a group of muscles and tendons that hold the shoulder in its socket and help a person rotate the arm and lift objects.

A tear in the soft tissue of the rotator cuff can be painful and make ordinary tasks more difficult. It typically results from shoulder overuse or direct injury.

Aging also causes degeneration of the shoulder tissue, which can increase the risk of a tear.

Herniated disk

When one of the cushioning disks between the vertebrae of the spine ruptures, it juts out between the spinal bones and pushes against the surrounding nerves.

If the disk pushes against nerves that serve the arm, a person may feel arm pain, numbness, or weakness.

A common cause of disk herniation is heavy or repetitive lifting or strenuous physical activity.


Arm pain may also be a symptom of an undetected fracture broken bone. Symptoms that may indicate a fracture include:

  • pain
  • deformity
  • swelling

It is important to seek medical advice for a suspected fracture. Medical treatment is necessary to ensure the bone heals properly.

Learn more about fractures.

If a person experiences left arm pain, it is important to seek medical evaluation from a doctor. Early treatment can help tissues or bones heal and prevent further damage.

The most important factor of early treatment for left arm pain is ruling out a heart attack. Doctors may choose noninvasive treatment for a heart attack. For example, they may prescribe a drug that breaks up blood clots. More severe blockages may call for surgery.

Doctors may recommend medication such as nitroglycerin for an angina attack. Calcium channel blockers and beta blockers may help prevent further attacks.

For skeletomuscular injuries, treatments may vary but can include:

  • taking pain relief medication
  • resting the injured area
  • stabilizing the arm or affected joint
  • taking part in physical therapy
  • surgery

A person’s doctor can advise on what treatments they recommend based on the underlying cause of the pain in the left arm.

Here are some frequently asked questions about left arm pain.

When should I worry about left arm pain?

Left arm pain may be due to a serious condition such as a heart attack or angina if a person experiences chest pain, breathing difficulties, or pain that spreads to other parts of the body.

It is important to seek immediate medical help if a person experiences symptoms of a heart attack or angina.

How do you know if left arm pain is not heart related?

Left arm pain is probably not a result of heart problems if it has the following characteristics:

  • The pain has a “stabbing” quality and lasts only a few seconds at a time
  • The pain only happens with movement or when touching something.
  • The pain only occurs across a small area of the arm.
  • The discomfort persists without other symptoms for hours or days.

What does left arm pain feel like before a heart attack?

A person may experience pain or discomfort down their left arm or both arms if they are experiencing a heart attack. Pain from a heart attack may be sudden and intense, or it may be more gradual.

Can your left arm hurt without it being a heart attack?

There are numerous possible causes of left arm pain other than a heart attack. These include angina, bursitis, tendonitis, rotator cuff tear, herniated disk, and fracture.

A doctor can order tests to determine the cause of left arm pain and advise on suitable treatments.

How long can you have shoulder pain before a heart attack?

Symptoms of a heart attack, which can include shoulder pain, can come on suddenly. If a person experiences sudden shoulder pain and other symptoms of a heart attack, they should seek immediate medical help. For some people, symptoms develop more gradually. If a person experiences symptoms of a heart attack, even if they develop slowly, it is important to seek medical advice.

While left arm pain is not always a sign of a heart attack or angina, these are two of the most serious causes of this symptom. It is essential to seek immediate medical attention if breathlessness, nausea, chest pain, and dizziness accompany arm pain.

Other possible causes include bursitis, tendonitis, a rotator cuff tear, and a herniated disk. A fracture or broken bone can also cause left arm pain,

Treatment will depend on the underlying cause. It is important to seek medical advice if a person experiences unexplained left arm pain or arm pain alongside other symptoms.

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