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Chronic Upper Body Joint and Muscle Pain

While suffering from pain is unique to your body, doctors at UPMC Orthopaedic Care can work with you to diagnose the cause. We'll then create a custom treatment plan for chronic upper body pain in your shoulders, elbows, hands, and wrists.

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What Is Chronic Upper Body Joint and Muscle Pain?

With more than 350 joints in the human body, it's safe to say that all of us will suffer from varying levels of pain at some point.

Chronic upper body joint and muscle pain can be debilitating and can take a toll on day-to-day living.

Simple tasks — such as picking up a fork or getting a glass from the top shelf of your kitchen cabinet — can be a challenge.

Types of upper body joint and muscle pain

At UPMC Orthopaedic Care, we diagnose and treat:

  • Shoulder pain
  • Elbow pain
  • Hand pain
  • Wrist pain

What are the causes and risk factors of chronic upper body pain?

Many factors can cause pain to the joints and muscles in your upper body, including:

  • Injury
  • Arthritis
  • Over-activity
  • Disease

While some discomfort is short-lived and resolves over time, pain is the body's way of telling you something is wrong and needs attention.

If you're dealing with chronic issues, it's a wise choice to meet with an orthopaedic doctor and discuss your upper body joint pain symptoms.

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What Are Symptoms of Chronic Upper Body Joint and Muscle Pain?

Shoulder pain symptoms and diagnosis

While people of any age can have shoulder pain, athletes are more at risk for suffering from shoulder impingement.

Shoulder impingement is due to pressure on the rotator cuff when you lift your arm over your head.

It's common among those who play sports that involve heavy overhead use of their arms, such as:

  • Baseball
  • Swimming
  • Tennis

Some symptoms of shoulder impingement include:

  • Slight ache during activity or rest
  • Radiating pain from the front of the shoulder to the side of the arm
  • Sudden, sharp pain when lifting or reaching

Elbow pain symptoms and diagnosis

Elbow pain can have many root causes, but the most common condition is tennis elbow.

Tennis elbow is an inflammation of the tendons on the outside of the forearm. These tendons allow you to extend and lift your hand.

Despite the name, tennis elbow is not exclusive to just those who play tennis.

In addition to playing tennis, other common causes are repetitive motions, such as:

  • Raking leaves
  • Heavy computer use
  • Painting

Symptoms of tennis elbow include a burning pain on the outside of the elbow area that gets worse over time.

Hand pain symptoms and diagnosis

If you've fallen on the palm of your hand, you may not only be in severe pain but could have a scaphoid fracture.

The pain will be most intense on the thumb side of the hand, and any time you move the wrist.

Because it's often hard to tell the difference between a bone bruise and a fracture, it's vital to see a doctor right away so he or she can:

  • Take x-rays 
  • Confirm a diagnosis
  • Outline a plan of treatment

Wrist pain symptoms and diagnosis

When we think of wrist pain, the most common ailment that comes to mind is carpal tunnel syndrome.

Carpal tunnel has become a widespread problem for people of any age due to repetitive activities that use our wrists and hands, such as working on computers and using cell phones.

It happens when there is pressure on the nerve leading to the hand, causing swelling in the tendons of the wrist.

Carpal tunnel symptoms include:

  • Numbness in your hand and/or fingers
  • A sharp, stabbing pain around the thumb area

To diagnose your wrist pain, your doctor will first assess the numbness and level of strength in the hand.

To pinpoint the precise area of the nerve that's causing your wrist pain, your doctor may also order x-rays and a nerve conduction study.

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How Do You Treat Upper Body Joint and Muscle Pain?

Working with the orthopaedic specialists at UPMC means you'll receive some of the best care in the nation for your chronic upper body pain.

Your doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan specific to your injury and discomfort.

Shoulder pain treatment

Management and treatment at the onset of shoulder pain often includes:

  • Resting the affected shoulder
  • Taking anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Doing rehabilitative stretching exercises

Your doctor may also suggest a cortisone shot to help heal the area of your shoulder injury.

Elbow pain treatment

Treatment and management for elbow pain includes:

  • Rest
  • Ice
  • Stretching exercises
  • Cortisone shots, in some cases

Hand and wrist pain treatment

  • A cast: If you have a fracture in your hand or wrist, expect to wear a cast for four to six weeks.
  • Physical therapy: After removing the cast from your hand or wrist, your doctor may prescribe physical therapy to increase mobility and range of motion.
  • Surgery: If the fracture is in the central portion of your hand, you may need surgery to preserve the integrity of the bone and its blood supply.

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