The armpit is known medically as the outer axilla surface. This area can become uncomfortable, either experiencing a dull ache similar to a strained muscle or a sharp burning sensation. Pain in this area may or may not be stemming from a more severe cause. Women in particular are concerned when pain in the armpit appears because this could be an indication of breast cancer, particularly if firm patches or lumps appear at the same time. Understanding the likely causes of armpit pain can help you decide if the sensation you are feeling requires further examination.
Causes of Armpit Pain
1. Glandular Infections
If the sweat glands become infected with bacteria it can cause inflammation. Excessive sweating, poor hygiene or exposure to high heat can cause this problem to occur. If the glands are infected in the armpit it can lead to a hardened patch or boils accompanied by a dull, radiating pain.
Cancer of the white blood cells may cause radiating pain that leads down the arm, in some cases all the way to the fingers. Pain in the left armpit that does not stem from signs of an infection may be a sign of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma as well.
3. Connective Tissue Degeneration
If the connective tissue is breaking down in the armpit it can cause this area to become sore, particularly when the arms are stretched. In this case you should not experience a lump accompanying the pain.
A fungal infection in the armpit can cause a rash as well as a lump. Gardeners commonly experience a fungal infection known as sporothrix schenckii which is spread by contact with moss, soil, rose bushes and similar environments.
If the thyroid is not functioning properly the glands in the armpit may swell and become painful. Those that take in a high daily dose of iodine are at risk for this symptom.
6. Viral Infections
Infections such as AIDS, chickenpox, typhoid, measles and other infections caused by a virus can cause a dull pain in the armpit. You may also experience body aches, fever or sore throat as these infections take hold.
7. Breast Cancer
Many women fear that a lump in their armpit may be caused by breast cancer. This will cause a hardened spot around the breast which could be felt in the armpit as well. If such a lump suddenly occurs it is important to see your doctor for a proper evaluation.
8. Brachial Plexus Injury
Brachial injuries affect the nerves throughout the shoulder and neck which can also move through the armpit or axilla. If these nerves are injured by cutting, pressure or stretching it can cause pain throughout this region. Additional symptoms include a tingling or numbness sensation coupled with reduced motor control in the muscles of the arm.
9. Shoulder Dislocation
If the shoulder becomes dislocated it can lead to pain under the arm. This type of injury involved the humerus bone sliding out of the shoulder socket, causing discomfort. In most cases the arm will slip downward in the socket, which can lead to numbness, weakness, swelling and pain in the shoulder and under arm. This condition may also be coupled with nerve damage.
10. Glandular Swelling
If the lymphatic glands around the breasts become swollen it can cause discomfort under the arm. This can be caused by an infection or strain on the body, as these glands are very sensitive. Your doctor can evaluate and monitor this condition to determine if it requires additional medical attention.
Cysts are sacs of debris and fluid that build up under the skin. Moist, warm, dark areas such as the underarms are ideal spots for cysts to grow. Cysts are designed to help the body shed toxins and dirt, but can cause discomfort as they grow. A doctor can determine if the cyst needs to be drained or removed to reduce this discomfort or reduce your risk of further infection.
12. Pulled Muscles
A pulled muscle can cause an excruciating pain under the arm. Picking up a heavy item or over exerting yourself can lead to this type of injury. Alternating heat and ice on the injured area coupled with taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication can help to reduce these symptoms.
Shingles is caused by the herpes zoster virus which enters the body following a chicken pox infection. This will cause a rash to appear on one side of the body, particularly on the chest, back and arms, which may lead to pain in these areas.
14. Other Causes
There are several other causes of armpit pain which vary in severity. These include angina, strain, deep vein thrombosis, trauma, infections, allergic reactions, growths or chronic disease.
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Treatments for Armpit Pain
Treatments for armpit pain will vary based on the medical condition which is causing this discomfort. There are some common self-care measures or treatments that can be used to initially manage this sensation.
- Antibiotics, antifungal or antiviral medications may be necessary to alleviate an infection.
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory painkillers can be used to relieve discomfort in the armpit.
- Muscle relaxers may be prescribed if the muscles in this area have been strained.
- Apply a hot compress by warming a cotton cloth up in a pan and placing it on the armpit for 5-10 minutes. To not make the cloth too hot to touch as this could aggravate the skin.
- Apply a cold compress by placing 4-5 ice cubes in a cotton cloth and placing the pack on the armpit for 10-15 minutes. Performing this three times a day can encourage healing.
If the medical condition causing your discomfort is serious you may require extensive treatment. Radiation or chemotherapy are commonly used to address conditions such as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, Hodgkin’s lymphoma or leukemia.