What are the Causes of Underarm Pain?

Your underarms are among the most sensitive areas of the human body. Pain in this area can arise from injury as well as other causes
What are the Causes of Underarm Pain?

Last update: 12 April, 2021

It’s likely that at some point, you’ve experienced underarm pain. Considering that there are lots of blood vessels in this area as well as tendons and nerves, it’s not at all surprising that at some point you might experience discomfort in the region. In fact, your underarms are connected to certain muscles that can inflame the ganglia.

That’s why it’s important to identify the source of your discomfort and evaluate whether your pain interferes with the movement of your arms. If so, you should see a doctor. However, it’s not usually a serious issue, though there are some extreme cases where the lymph nodes are damaged and surgical intervention may be necessary.


Regarding the most common symptoms that can appear if you’re suffering from underarm pain, we can mention the following:

  • Lumps
  • Swelling
  • Burning sensation in the area
  • Numbness
  • Pain (which can be mild, moderate, or severe)

Causes of underarm pain

Below, we mention the 7 main causes of underarm pain:

underarm pain woman in blue tank top suffering

1. A pulled muscle

This type of injury typically is characterized by a sudden and sharp pain in the underarm area. Generally, people who lift weights or perform strenuous activities usually experience it.

Muscle tension can cause weakness, stiffness, fatigue, and even burning in the affected area. To resolve it, you have to reduce the inflammation and try not to move that part of the body to avoid further damaging any pulled or torn muscles.

Experts recommend using cold compresses for 20 minutes at a time. You can also take anti-inflammatory medications. Above all, however, you should rest for 3 to 6 weeks.

We recommend you read: What causes inflamed lymph nodes?

2. Axillary lymphadenitis

This condition occurs when your lymph nodes become inflamed. It typically happens below the neck, groin, and underarms. Some of the primary symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Swelling
  • Pain when touched
  • Redness and numbness

An infection causes axillary lymphadenitis. Your doctor will take a blood test to determine the cause and, in some cases, they may perform a biopsy to rule out the possibility of cancer.

3. Heart attack or angina

Heart attack or angina

Angina is an intense pain that occurs when there is not enough blood supplied to the heart. It can spread to other parts of your body, including your arms, shoulders, neck, back, and underarms. Meanwhile, you may experience the following:

If you notice pain in your chest and underarms, you should seek immediate medical attention.

4. Hidradenitis suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic disease that’s characterized by the appearance of nodules, scars, or abscesses in the region where you have sweat glands. This means that it commonly appears in the underarm area.

The nodules create blockages beneath the skin that affect the hair follicles. Some of the risk factors include:

  • Being overweight
  • Smoking
  • Weak immune system
  • Hormonal changes

5. Breast cancer

Just because breast cancer is one of the possible causes of pain under the arms doesn’t mean that it’s the only one – so don’t be alarmed! The goal is to prevent it.

This type of cancer starts when your body attacks the cells of the ducts that produce milk in the breast tissue. It can also originate in glandular tissues. If you have inflammation in your lymph nodes, they can affect the underarm area. Some of the warning signs are:

  • An inverted nipple
  • A lump in the breast tissue
  • Redness and itching
  • Peeling skin around the nipple
  • A change in the size or shape of the breast

If you have any of the symptoms mentioned here, you should have a mammogram or biopsy as indicated by your doctor to identify the cause of your pain and determine if it’s breast cancer.

6. Acid reflux

In medical terms, this is known as gastroesophageal reflux disease or indigestion. After you eat, your stomach cells secrete acids that help break down food.

In some cases, however, the muscles can weaken and gastric juices rise up into the esophagus, which causes burning in the chest that can spread to the underarm area.

7. Anxiety


Pain in the underarm region can also be somatic. This means that there’s no physiological cause for it, but your body is perceiving pain due to stress or prolonged anxiety.

People with anxiety become very worried and are constantly on edge, which causes physical discomfort. In these cases, it’s a good idea to try some relaxation techniques to reduce anxiety. If you can’t alleviate your anxiety on your own, see a doctor. They’ll recommend the appropriate medication to help you with your anxiety.

Avoid self-mediation

It’s important to evaluate your pain and discomfort before taking a pain reliever or other medication without consulting your doctor beforehand. Remember, taking medication of this kind can hide the symptoms and neglect the underlying problem.

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