Arm and leg pain may affect any limb and is a phrase used to describe pain or discomfort that affect an individual’s limbs or extremity such as the knee or the elbow and in some cases the entire leg or arm. Most of the underlying causes often affect the legs.
Some of the pain might come from the joint but joint pain is a different topic discussed elsewhere. The pain might be irregular or constant and this may be determined by the cause. Pain has been noted to arise from the bones, muscles, nerves, skin and in some cases, in the brain such as in phantom pain or psychogenic pain.
Pain in the arm might be as a result of pathology involving the neck and in some cases the pain in the legs might be as a result of low back or lumbar spine problems. The term limb pain or more specific arm pain or leg pain may be used until a definitive diagnosis has been made such as tendinitis, peripheral neuropathy, broken arm or broken leg.
There are quite a number of people affected by arm and leg pain around the world and this interferes with their ability to move or continue with their daily activities.
There are different types of arm and leg pain and the type depends on the cause and the symptoms. The most common limb pain types include costochondritis, Tietze’s syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome, hip bursitis, knee pain, tarsal tunnel pain, plantar fasciitis, Morton’s neuroma, cancer pain, interstitial cystitis, and irritable bowel syndrome among others. The type of pain is classified according to the part of the limb it affects and according to the underlying cause of the pain.
Because of the wide range of causes behind arm and leg pain, the symptoms will vary and be specific to a type of limb pain.
Though this is the case, there are general symptoms such as weakness, numbness, tingling, positional pain, constant pain or a burning pain.
There are other symptoms experienced by patients but will be discussed in the different types of arm and leg pain.
The risk factors of arm and leg pain are difficult to pinpoint. As the body of a human being ages musculoskeletal pain becomes a common occurrence.
If the aging process is unhealthy, the musculoskeletal pain will often be accompanied by other medical conditions that might result in arm and/or leg pain. Most people will experience limb pain as they age. In most cases, this pain is self-limiting which means that with time, it will go away on its own.
There are certain health conditions such as obesity that will increase the risk of leg and arm pain. The risks get worse when these health conditions are mixed with the aging process as this combination will increase the musculoskeletal problems that lead to limb pain.
Depression has also been identified as a cause of musculoskeletal pain. The key to identifying the cause and determining the risk factors is the identification of the underlying cause of the pain. Some of the common causes include a broken bone, blood clot in the veins, bacterial infections involving the skin, compressed spinal cord or nerve roots.
There are also uncommon causes which are serious including deep soft tissue infection, heart attack (this affects the arm only), and acute arterial occlusion (this is a sudden blocking of an artery in the leg or arm). Other less common causations include bone infections, bone tumors, and nerve related pressure or nerve degeneration.
Most health practitioners will use the patient’s history in the diagnostic process. The history will depend on the cause of the pain with the main complaint being the pain or discomfort in the arm or leg (in some parts or in the entire limb).
Some of the terms that are commonly used by the patients include, stabbing, aching, throbbing, and burning pain. The history also includes information such as the genesis of the pain, the location of the pain and the factors that increase or alleviate the pain. Other factors may include history or strain, trauma or injury that preceded the pain.
“I’ve been coming to Integrated since 2008 and would highly recommend anyone with any kind of pain to give them a try everyone in the office including the Dr’s are very friendly and will make you feel welcome and work with you to find a solution that works for you to get your pain under control. A+++”
— DAVID ARCE
The physical examination will also rely on the causes of the arm and leg pain. The exam will range from just normal to a revelation of tender spots, warmth, coolness, redness, swelling and obvious deformities.
There will be limitation in a number of limb movements and the affected arm or leg might be weaker than the other limb and there might be sensory alteration that will bring about tingling or numbness sensations.
A medical practitioner might carry out blood tests to check for arthritis or any other disease that might be behind the limb pain. Deformities in the tissues and bones can be checked using imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI and x-rays. X-rays can be used in detecting blood clot or weakened and dilated blood vessels within the arteries of the limb. Nerve conduction velocity might be employed to test nerve damage and to evaluate the electrical activity in the muscles of the affected arm or leg.
The treatment of arm and leg pain heavily relies on the affected part and the diagnosis. Most treatments are better handled when the underlying cause of the pain has been identified through the diagnostic processes. Painkiller based treatment must be combined or preceded by the diagnosis and treatment of the underlying cause.
There are successful treatment programs that incorporate the development of home-based exercise programs and modification of behavior. There is a traditional modification approach referred to as RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation).
Occupational and physical therapies can be helpful especially when a patient needs to remain physically active without risking further damage and discomfort. The professional therapists in rehabilitation programs will provide dos and don’ts that will guide the patient in enhancing the functional outcome even in cases where the pain is chronic. The development of home-based exercise programs and modification of behavior cannot be emphasized enough.
The prognosis will rely on the underlying factors, the extent of the damage and the treatment direction followed. The prediction will therefore range between a full recovery where the pain disappears and the patient can return to normal activities and a prolonged disability.
It is important that any constant or recurrent pain in the arm or leg be treated seriously especially where the cause is not apparent such as in a case of a physical injury. The patient should see a qualified medical practitioner for a thorough diagnosis and treatment to arrest any underlying cause before further damage and alleviate the pain and discomfort that renders the patient incapable of normal life activities.