7 Reasons Why Your Arm Feels Like You Got a Flu Shot if You Have Lupus | MyLupusTeam

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7 Reasons Why Your Arm Feels Like You Got a Flu Shot if You Have Lupus

Medically reviewed by Zeba Faroqui, M.D.
Posted on May 31, 2023

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) — often just called lupus — is an autoimmune disease that affects many parts of the body. Whether it’s rashes or kidney problems, lupus symptoms vary greatly from one person to the next. Several MyLupusTeam members have mentioned arm pain as a lupus symptom.

“My left arm feels like I got a shot in my arm: soreness that turns into severe pain. It radiates down my arm all the way into my hand,” one MyLupusTeam member shared. “It’s not a constant problem, but when it hits, it can last for a few hours to a few days.”

Many members have asked whether their arm pain could be related to SLE. Here, we explore the top seven reasons someone with lupus might experience radiating arm pain.

1. Muscle Pain

When someone has a lupus flare, they often feel body aches all over. “Flares for me begin with fever, body aches, and severe fatigue,” one member explained. If you are experiencing a worsening of your usual lupus symptoms along with muscle pain in your shoulder or arm, there’s a chance you are experiencing a lupus flare. Muscle pain is one of the most common symptoms of lupus.

Members have shared different strategies for pain relief of sore arm muscles. “I’ve been covering it with lidocaine patches all the way to and including my hand,” one member explained. “I then wrap it all for compression.” You may also choose to ice, stretch, or rest any aching muscles.

2. Joint Pain

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), common lupus symptoms include joint pain and stiffness, with swelling (arthritis) or without swelling (arthralgia). Up to 95 percent of people living with lupus report having either arthritis or arthralgia at some point. Joint pain and swelling from lupus affect the neck, legs, shoulders, and upper arms. Many people describe lupus joint pain as similar to the pain they experience with the flu, with intense aching.

When a joint becomes swollen, it may cause issues with the functioning of your entire arm. Discussing her arm pain, one MyLupusTeam member explained, “I can’t raise my left arm. My arm and hand are pretty useless when this happens.” Swollen joints can be a frustrating, and sometimes unbearable, symptom of lupus.

There are some steps you can take to protect and improve your joint health. While it may be hard to picture being active when your joints are hurting, light physical activity can help strengthen your joints and increase strength and mobility over time. If you currently have joint pain or simply want to prevent it from occurring, you can ask your rheumatologist for a referral to a physical therapist. They can help you increase your physical activity safely and effectively.

MyLupusTeam also has resources for those looking to improve their joint health from home. You might not want to exercise when you are in the midst of a lupus flare, however. Always talk to your doctor before beginning a new exercise routine.

3. Lupus Skin Symptoms

While lupus skin symptoms are most commonly thought of as the malar rash or “butterfly rash” across the bridge of the nose, skin sensitivity and rashes can appear anywhere on the body. Further, between 70 percent and 80 percent of people living with lupus develop skin lesions during the course of their disease. Because people with lupus are often sensitive to the sun, areas of the body that get more sun exposure — including the arms — may be prone to irritation, rashes, and related joint pain.

One member shared, “Today, I ended up getting sunburned even with sunscreen on. After that, I got a mild flare from being out in the sun for like five hours.” Sun exposure is a common trigger for skin symptoms and other inflammatory symptoms of lupus.

If there is a visible change in the color or texture of the skin of your arm, and it hurts to the touch, you may be able to attribute your arm pain to the skin symptoms of lupus. If these symptoms persist for more than a few days or continue to worsen, speak to your rheumatologist about treatment options.

4. Lupus Myelitis

One rare lupus symptom, affecting only 1 percent to 2 percent of people with lupus, is lupus myelitis. Lupus myelitis is a disorder of the nervous system caused by inflammation of the spinal cord, which carries signals to and from the brain. When this inflammation affects the same area on both sides of the spinal cord, it is called transverse myelitis.

People who experience lupus myelitis may have paralysis or weakness that begins in one limb and, in serious cases, progresses to paraplegia. Early symptoms may include muscle spasms, numbness, tingling, and sensitivity to touch. Usually, the primary symptom is pain in the back, legs, abdomen, or arms.

One MyLupusTeam member shared some related neurologic symptoms of lupus: “I have recently started experiencing neurological issues such as double vision, face drooping, and balance issues.”

While lupus myelitis is an uncommon cause of upper arm pain, it’s good to be aware of this rare lupus complication. If you’re concerned that you may be experiencing symptoms of lupus myelitis, speak to your health care provider about appropriate blood tests that can help rule out this condition.

5. Medication Side Effects

Sometimes, the symptoms people experience while living with a chronic disease can be attributed to the medications they take to treat it. Drugs used to treat lupus include corticosteroids, immunosuppressants, biologics, and antimalarial drugs.

Corticosteroids are known to have negative effects when used long-term or in high doses. One potential side effect of long-term use of prednisone and other corticosteroids is muscle weakness in the arms and legs. Another side effect is bone loss and fracture, which can manifest as pain in the joints. If you’ve been taking steroids for more than a few weeks at a time and are experiencing these or other symptoms, be sure to speak to your doctor about your concerns.

Rituximab (Rituxan), a biologic therapy administered via infusion, is used to treat lupus in rare cases — usually when other treatments have failed. Common side effects include body pain and aching joints during an infusion or after receiving a dose. These symptoms are usually not a cause for concern if they go away soon after receiving your treatment.

6. Heart Conditions

One urgent condition that should always be ruled out in someone experiencing left-sided arm or shoulder pain is a heart attack. Having lupus puts you at increased risk for coronary artery disease, which decreases blood flow to the heart and can lead to a heart attack down the line.

Your risk of a heart attack may be greater if you have any of these other risk factors in addition to lupus:

  • Preexisting cardiovascular disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Age older than 45
  • A family history of heart attacks

Symptoms of a heart attack look different for everyone. Chest pain can radiate to the neck, jaw, and left shoulder. They can cause shoulder pain on the left side that lasts for minutes to hours. This pain is often accompanied by fatigue, shortness of breath, sweating, and a feeling of “impending doom.” Talk to your doctor right away if you notice any of these new symptoms, as they can be life-threatening.

As someone living with lupus, you should have regular checkups with your primary care physician to make sure your heart health and blood pressure are well-managed. Your doctor can refer you to a cardiologist (heart doctor) if they have any concerns.

7. Other Health Conditions

There is always a possibility that your arm pain is not related to your lupus, but to another condition or injury. Common injuries such as tendonitis (tendon swelling) can cause arm pain in people regardless of whether they have lupus. In addition, lupus often coexists with other health conditions and autoimmune disorders. For example, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause joint pain.

Perhaps you slept in an odd position, lifted something heavy, or are sore from a workout. If your arm pain goes away and does not return, it’s typically not a cause for concern. You can manage arm pain at home by icing the sore area or resting your arm. Because lupus can cause kidney disease (lupus nephritis), many doctors recommend avoiding regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen. If you’re looking for pain relief, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is often a safe and effective option for people with lupus nephritis.

Consult Your Doctor

If your arm pain seems to be severe, out of the ordinary, or accompanied by other abnormal symptoms, be sure to explain these symptoms to your rheumatology provider. As someone living with lupus, you know your body well and can tell when something is feeling “off.” If you’re concerned about your arm pain, your doctor can help figure out the root of this symptom by studying your medical history, physical exam results, and imaging scans.

Talk With Others Who Understand

MyLupusTeam is the social network for people with lupus and their loved ones. On MyLupusTeam, more than 222,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with lupus.

Have you experienced arm pain while living with lupus? How do you deal with joint or muscle pain? Share your experience in the comments below, or start a conversation by posting on your Activities page.

    Posted on May 31, 2023
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    Zeba Faroqui, M.D. earned her medical degree from the SUNY Downstate College of Medicine. Learn more about her here.
    Scarlett Bergam, M.P.H. is a medical student at George Washington University and a former Fulbright research scholar in Durban, South Africa. Learn more about her here.

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