Armpit pain (underarm pain) can be caused by a number of things that include pinched nerve, pregnancy, cancer, swollen armpits and lymph nodes, muscle pain, breastfeeding, waxing, cystic pimple, cancer, among other causes. This pain in armpit can affect female and male, adults and children and it could be sharp shooting or dull, constant or comes and goes, on the right or left armpit or extending to shoulder, chest, breast down arm and much more. What causes this pain under armpit?
Armpit pain refers to the aching, throbbing, stinging, twinging, and soreness, tenderness or general physical discomfort in and around your armpit or underarm area (axilla). It could be a dull or sharp pain in armpit (i.e. mild or stabbing pain in armpit), on both armpits (bilateral armpit pain), right and left armpit (i.e. pain under left armpit and under your right armpit) or referred or reflective pain which is pain that emanates elsewhere but it is felt at another point. Furthermore the pain could extend to other nearby areas such as breast i.e. pain in breast and armpit, shoulder, chest, on upper arm, down arm, etc.
In terms of who can be affected, pain in underarm affects people of all age sets and genders i.e. children and adults as well as male and female. However, there are some specific causes that related to women or men. For instance, pain in armpit while breastfeeding could be a problem that affects women and not men! Finally, the pain in armpit might be constant or comes and goes depending on what actually the pain.
Underarm pain symptom (mild and life threatening signs of pain in underarm area)
- Underarm pain symptom (mild and life threatening signs of pain in underarm area)
- Why do you have pain under armpit or armpit pain causes?
- Hidradenitis (inflamed or infected sweat glands and hair follicles)
- Lymphadenitis or Underarm pain lymph nodes
- Acid reflux or and heartburn
- Underarm cyst pain and armpit pimple pain
- Armpit muscle pain due to strains
- Shingles and painful armpit
- Anxiety armpit pain
- Brachial plexus nerve injuries and Shooting pain in armpit due to neuropathy
- Underarm pain cancer – breast cancer and lymphoma
- Pain under armpits due to Angina
- Glandular infection
- Peripheral artery disease
- Breast infection
- Crutches armpit pain
- Swollen armpit pain or underarm pain and swelling
- Underarm waxing pain
- Other Causes of pain in the armpit
- Underarm pain pregnancy
- Underarm pain breastfeeding
- Sharp pain in armpit – sharp stabbing or shooting underarm pain
- Pain under left armpit or Pain in left armpit
- Pain in breast and armpit or pain in armpit and breast
- Pain under armpit female
- Pain under armpit men
- Treatment of pain under armpit or discomfort
The obvious armpit pain symptom or sign is the aching, throbbing, stinging or general discomfort itself. This could be accompanied by other symptoms such as swelling, redness, inflammation, muscle weakness, reduced mobility, tenderness, lumps, numbness, skin discoloration, bruising, and “shoulder, arm, hand or finger pain,” [healthgrades.com] among others.
Some serious and life threatening pain under the armpit symptoms that require emergency treatment include respiratory issues ( short breath, breathing difficulties, wheezing or choking), hemorrhage or excessive bleeding, paralysis, bone exposed on skin surface, intense stabbing armpit pain as well as chest tightness, pressure, palpitation or pain.
Note: The actual symptoms you will have will be tied to the specific cause of your painful armpits. You might have a few of the symptoms we have mentioned or have different ones.
Why do you have pain under armpit or armpit pain causes?
There are many possible reasons why you are experiencing underarm pain. We are going to discuss some of the most common causes of pain in armpits. Not to overemphasis, ensure you see your doctor for proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation. So what are some of the reasons why you have underarm pain?
Hidradenitis (inflamed or infected sweat glands and hair follicles)
Sometimes you might experience pain not only on your armpits but also on your groin, under the breast and buttock areas due to infection and inflammation of hair follicles as well as nearby sweat glands (apocrine glands) i.e. “hair follicles and nearby apocrine glands (sweat glands) on the underarms, groin, buttocks and under the breasts become infected and inflamed” [hopkinsmedicine.org]. This is due to clogging and inability of dead skin cells to be pushed out, providing a good environment for bacteria to breed.
The end result is cyst formation that resembles a thick and large pimple that often cause pain, scarring, sinus tracts, severe itching, as well as depression. Hidradenitis is more prevalent in women (4 times more than men), African American, obese and smokers. Treatment is by oral medication, laser hair removal as well as cyst removal.
Lymphadenitis or Underarm pain lymph nodes
This is the inflammation, swelling or enlargement of lymph nodes or glands “often in response to bacteria, viruses, or fungi” [nlm.nih.gov] infection can results to under armpit pain. It happens on the site nearest to the infected, inflamed or tumorous site. If it is close to your armpits, you will have swollen armpit lymph nodes that will be painful too i.e. underarm gland pain
Acid reflux or and heartburn
GERD or acid reflux refers to “condition that occurs when stomach acids and other stomach contents back up into the esophagus through the lower esophageal sphincter” [healthline.com]. It has a number of symptoms that could be mild or severe that are common when bending or lying over, after a heavy meal or after a spicy or fatty food.
Some of the common symptoms include heartburn, sour taste, regurgitation, dyspepsia, swallowing difficulties, sore throat, dry cough, asthma symptoms. Emergency symptoms include “pain radiating through your left arm, shoulder, back, neck, or jaw” [Healthline.com], shortness of breath, nausea, dizziness, sweating, sere chest pain, tightening, crushing or squeezing feeling in your chest among others.
Underarm cyst pain and armpit pimple pain
These are “closed pockets of tissue that can be filled with fluid, pus, or other material” [webmd.com] which are mostly painless but can be very painful if infected. Having cystic pimple or bumps in your underarm can also result in pain.
Armpit muscle pain due to strains
It is possible to suffer from very painful underarms or armpits after workout, some sleeping positions, or picking something. This pain is due to pulled or strained pectoralis muscles (minor and major). Treatment should include alternating cold and warm compresses, use of anti-inflammatory and non-steroid medications.
Shingles and painful armpit
Herpes zoster, otherwise known as shingles is a varicella-zoster viral infection responsible for painful rash anywhere on the body but is common on right or left side of body trunk. If you have an eruption near your armpit, you might end up with armpit burning pain.
Common symptoms you will have include pain, tingling or burning sensation, numbness, a red rash (comes after a few days of experiencing pain), blisters filled with fluid that bursts then crusts as a result of itching, headache, fever, fatigue, etc.
Anxiety armpit pain
Anxiety is often associated with underarm pain since it results to rapid heart rate, shaking, sweating and irritation; all which might cause underarm pain in some way i.e. rapid heart rate and shaking strain chest muscles and making them feel achy while sweating will cause irritation which can cause burning and itching (burning and itching can make your underarm painful.
Brachial plexus nerve injuries and Shooting pain in armpit due to neuropathy
Pinched nerves especially brachial plexus from stretching, pressure or trauma can lead to painful underarms. This is often accompanied with numbness and tingling feeling and pain that resemble electric pulses.
Various issues such as chicken pox in adults, deficiency of vitamin B complex, etc. can results to neuropathy. “Neuropathy issues occur when there is shooting pain radiation from your underarm to the inner section of your elbow” [orgclinic.com]. Minor nerve damages is what produces the pain
Underarm pain cancer – breast cancer and lymphoma
Breast cancer often causes cancerous armpit lumps as well as hardened spots near your breast. When you have breast cancer, you will have other symptoms such as n1pple discharges (clear or bloody), changes in breast size or shape, dimpling of breast skin, rash on or around your n1pple or changes in its appearance.
Besides breast cancer, you could also pain under armpits due to lymphoma. This is cancer a type of white blood cells known as lymphocytes. It develops on your lymphatic system and lymph nodes and you are likely to have swellings on your neck, leg and groin lymph nodes. Other symptoms will include fever, sudden weight loss, cough, breathlessness, heavy sweating, loss of appetite, fatigue, etc.
Pain under armpits due to Angina
Another possible cause is Angina which is “a term used for chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart muscle” [mayoclinic.org] often a symptom of someone suffering from a coronary artery disease. When you suffer from angina, you might have some pain under arms, neck, shoulder, chest pain as well as other symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness and nausea. Women might have slightly different symptoms especially chest pressure or pain.
Poor armpit hygiene, excessive sweating or exposure too much heat can cause bacterial infection of sweat glands. This will result to boils or hardened patches that will be accompanied with some dull radiated pain from your armpits.
Peripheral artery disease
This is a condition or disease where arteries leading to leg, arm or any other arteries except those found in the brain and near the heart are narrowed or obstructed. This leads to reduced blood flow in the affected arteries. When you have this problem on arteries near your arm, a shooting or sharp pain is possible.
Infection of the breast tissue especially by staphylococcus aureus bacteria or mastitis can cause pain in breast as well as under your armpits because a small part of the breast tissue extends into the armpit area. Common symptoms will be lump, pain, itching, discharge, swelling, redness, etc. of breast and n1pple as well as enlarged lymph nodes. Most mothers often suffer from breast infection during breastfeeding. Ensure you take care, and keep proper personal hygiene during this time.
Crutches armpit pain
Using crutches can result to armpit pain due to the friction that can make your underarm sore i.e. you are likely to end up with armpit burning pain. It is advisable to keep your underarm off your crutch pad, use a tighter arm grip assisted with your torso, spread effort around your body and make your routines much simpler.
Swollen armpit pain or underarm pain and swelling
Swollen armpits is an obvious cause of underarm pain and swelling. The swelling might also affect normal hand mobility and worsen the pain as you move your hands.
See more details on swollen armpit
Underarm waxing pain
Underarm waxing and other shaving technic can often result into sore armpits or a burning underarm pain. When waxing armpits, ensure the hair is long enough, scrub and dry them before waxing. Painkillers, waxing the right way, and after waxing care is necessary.
Other Causes of pain in the armpit
Besides the above underarm reasons for armpit pain, other possible reasons why you could be having pain in underarm area include:
Allergies – The use of some soaps, antiperspirants or deodorant can cause underarm skin allergic reaction and consequently swelling, pain as well as redness.
Common cold – Common cold aches are known to cause pain not only on the armpits but entire body as well. You are likely to have underarm discomfort if your upper respiratory track is infected too.
Shoulder dislocation – Shoulder dislocation can cause sharp pain in armpit, weakens, numbness, swelling, arm pain. It might also cause nerve damages.
Viral infections – “Infections such as AIDS, chickenpox, typhoid, measles and other infections caused by a virus can cause a dull pain in the armpit” [med-health.net]. Such pain might be accompanied with other symptoms such as sore throat, fever, body aches, among others.
Connective tissue degeneration – When this happens in the armpit areas, you might have armpit pain that is not accompanied with any lumps. The pain will often be worse when you stretch or move your arms.
Diabetes – Excess sugar levels in blood due to untreated diabetes can lead to peripheral neuropathy which “involves excess glucose injuring small blood vessels related to the nerves and pain in the given area, such as the armpit” [enkivillage.com].
Swollen lymph nodes or armpit lumps – swollen armpit lymph nodes can cause tenderness, pain, lumps, skin redness, etc.
Armpit tattoo pain – This is a temporary pain during the process and shortly after having an underarm tattoo.
Other conditions that possibly because underarm pain include sporotrichosis (can cause a rash or lump in armpit), hyperthyroidism (can cause painful and swollen glands including armpit), growths, pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS), skin abscesses, infectious mononucleosis, deep vein thrombosis, armpit lumps, irritant contact dermatitis, bumps, cerebrovascular accidents, after some vaccinations e.g. pain in armpit after tetanus shot among other causes.
Underarm pain pregnancy
During early pregnancy, some women have reported underarm pain often accompanied with tender breast. For instance, one lady had this to say on a forum, “last night I started feeling a very sore spot (no bump) under my left arm that extends down my arm a ways. It hurts a lot when I raise my arm” [community.babycenter.com]. What followed was similar experiences from any other women while in their early pregnancy.
The underarm soreness during early pregnancy is associated with hormonal changes as well as tenderness of breast i.e. “highly sensitive breasts can reflect armpit pain” [livestrong.com]
Underarm pain breastfeeding
It is normal to have pain in breast and armpit while breastfeeding. Some people have reported shooting pain in armpit while breastfeeding. This is due to mainly breast engorgement when you produce more milk than can be expelled or, when you have an infection such as mastitis (common during breastfeeding), wearing a bad nursing bra, as well as poor breastfeeding positions i.e. not holding baby well to avoid pulling breast down.
Sharp pain in armpit – sharp stabbing or shooting underarm pain
Sometimes you might be suffering from sharp pain under armpit, which could be on your right or left armpit. This pain is often described as ‘sharp stabbing pain in armpit’, or ‘sharp shooting pain in armpit’ or ‘and it can be sudden, affecting your right or left armpits, be near your breast, go up to your shoulder, down arm and even to fingers. Men and woman (male or female) can suffer from sharp or shooting pain.
Some of the common causes neuropathy issues (pinched nerve especially if you have a sharp shooting pain that resembles electric pulses i.e. throbbing armpit pain), “cerebrovascular accident, heartburn, peripheral artery disease, or a swollen underarm lymph node” [livestrong.com].
Besides the above, another possible cause of sudden sharp pain in armpit area or near armpits could be angina. This will accompanied with sharp pain in left armpit, chest pain, shoulder pain, among other symptoms already mentioned. Finally, shooting pain in armpit has been associated with pregnancy, chest pain and later stages of lymphoma.
Pain under left armpit or Pain in left armpit
It is a fact that pain under left armpit and chest especially sharp pain under left armpit a scare to many people due to the fact that the heart is located on that side of your chest. Most people tend to assume the cause of left armpit pain is due to a heart attack or heart related problem. Yes, that could be one of the causes but there are many other possible causes.
Depending on the cause, the left armpit pain could be severe (sharp, shooting, stabbing), slight (mild or dull), burning, pinching or aching (throbbing). It could also extend to nearby areas including your back, arm, breast or chest area, shoulders, down arm or even extend to your fingers. Both male and female can experience the pain i.e. pain under left armpit in female and male is possible and the causes could be the same or different.
Any of the armpit pain causes we have discussed can be responsible if it affects just one side of your armpit (not bilateral underarm pain) and for this case, the left side. Problems such as pinched nerve, pulled muscles, swollen armpits, infections, massive heart attack, and shoulder dislocation, among others can be responsible for the underarm pain left side.
If you have sharp pain under left armpit and chest and you are suspecting it to be a heart attack, you might have other symptoms such as shortness of breath, pain on the left arm, jaw pain, toothaches, headache, heartburn, upper neck pain, general malaise, sweating, dizziness, sweating, racing heart, lightheadedness, anxiety, among others, beside the squeezing and fullness of chest accompanied with pain. Sometimes you will have pain on the right arm and very few symptoms.
To know that the left arm pain (dull or sharp) is not heart related, see if it is reproducible as you carry on some activities such as lifting objects, weights, etc. Such could be due to strain, inflation of joints or muscles. Furthermore, persistent pain is less likely to be related to heart but rather diseases such as arthritis or rotator cuff tendinitis. Finally if you have “lightning-fast, sharp pains in the arm are also less likely to be related to heart disease, especially if brought on by moving the arm or neck” [livestrong.com].
Pain in breast and armpit or pain in armpit and breast
When women experience pain in armpit and breast, their main worry is often if it is cancer. Yes, it could breast cancer or any other cause. Whenever you experience, breast pain, it can spread to the underarm and down your arm to the shoulder blade. Therefore, breast pain is closely associated with armpit pain.
In general, pain in breast and underarm can be classified as cyclic, non-cyclic and chest wall pain. When caused by hormonal level changes especially during menstrual cycle characterized by “heaviness, tenderness, a burning, prickling or stabbing pain, or a feeling of tightness” [breastcancercare.org.uk]. Furthermore, lumpiness and general discomfort is common a few days before periods begin.
There are the non-cyclic breast pain where the pain can be constant or comes and goes, affecting women before and after menopause. Common pain in breast and armpit causes include effect of procedures such as breast argumentation or enlargement (burning and aching is likely for a few days to weeks), early pregnancy, having large breasts, side effects of some medications, breastfeeding, or breast infection among many other causes
Finally, chest wall pain can result in armpit and breast pain for instance musculoskeletal pain due to pulling your chest muscles. Such pain that does not emanate from the breasts and could be sharp, and extend to your arm. You will tend to feel the pain if you apply pressure on your chest.
Pain in left breast and armpit and Pain under left armpit female
Sometimes armpit and breast pain can on the left i.e. pain in left breast and armpit, be on the right armpit and breast or both. Causes of pain in left breast and armpit can be cyclical, non-cyclical or chest wall pain
Pain in left breast and armpit in male
Men can also suffer from this pain i.e. pain in breast and armpit in male. Problems such as gynecomastia (male breast enlargement and tendering in adolescent), use of some medications or hormones, cysts, fibroadenomas, cancer, etc.
Pain under armpit female
All of the above causes can result in armpit pain in women. However, specific cause of underarm pain are the causes that result or relate to pregnancy, breastfeeding, breast cancer, breast argumentation, after mastectomy. Depending on the cause, the pain might come with lump, no lump and can affect the right or even the lest armpit.
Pain under armpit men
Except for those that affect only women, all the above causes can be responsible for underarm pain in men. Overworking in gyms, lifting heavy things, etc. can cause muscle injuries that result in pain on armpit, shoulder, arm, etc.
Treatment of pain under armpit or discomfort
Treatment options will depend on severity as well as the cause of the pain under the armpit. Mild pain might go away on their own, pain that results from muscle strain might require some over the counter medications as well as some home remedies such as cold compresses while serious cases might require physical therapy, massages, prescribed medications (including antibiotics) and/or surgery.
Ensure you keep good personal hygiene, carefully shave your armpit hairs, avoid tight bras (especially to endowed women), take a warm shower, wear lose clothing, and avoid foods that make you sweat more such as oily and spicy foods.
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Sources and references
- Inflamed Infected Sweat Glands Hidradenitis hopkinsmedicine.org