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Muscle weakness and fatigue are common symptoms people often complain about. Although we may use "weakness" to describe a feeling of being tired that goes away after rest, we are actually talking more about fatigue, which implies tiredness related to lack of energy or strength. These symptoms do not necessarily mean you are sick although they may indicate you have a health problem which needs to be evaluated in the context of other related symptoms.

Arm muscle fatigue may result from various factors, such as overwork, overuse, poor sleep, anxiety, worry, boredom, or even lack of exercise. In general, muscle fatigue may be relieved by resting or relaxation, after which muscle strength may be regained and normal arm muscle function resumes.

On the other hand, if there is true weakness of the arm muscles, there is lack of muscle strength that may not be totally relieved by rest. Gradual progression of weakness may occur in certain conditions until total loss of muscle function occurs or until it resolves with treatment. In these cases, arm weakness may also be accompanied by other symptoms such as generalized body weakness, pain, loss of appetite and others, depending on the cause.

Some conditions that may cause arm weakness include:

  • Electrolyte imbalance, or low sodium or potassium levels

  • Thyroid gland problems (underactive/hypothyroidism or overactive/hyperthyroidism)

  • Arm injury, which may involve nerve, muscle or bone injury can cause pain and inability to move the arm

  • Arthritis, which may cause pain and inflammation that reduce arm movements

  • Tendinitis, or tendon inflammation

  • Infection in the arm

  • Fibromyalgia, a chronic condition which involves pain, weakness and stiffness

  • Myopathy, an acquired muscle disease leading to progressive muscle weakness

  • Muscular dystrophy, an inherited disorder leading to progressive muscle degeneration

  • Nerve entrapment/compression, such as carpal tunnel syndrome

  • Spinal nerve compression or radiculopathy

  • Stroke

  • Myasthenia Gravis, an immune system disease that affects voluntary muscles

  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a condition that affects the brain and spinal cord, resulting in loss of voluntary muscle control

When to See a Doctor

Sometimes overuse of arm muscles can lead to muscle fatigue or muscle injury. The best way to relieve this is to stop doing the activity that caused the symptoms and take a rest. Application of hot and cold compress can relieve pain and inflammation. Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever may also help reduce pain and improve arm muscle function.

Fatigue, lack of energy, or tiredness may be related to a viral illness, lack of sleep, overwork, or anxiety, which may improve with rest and home treatment.

If arm muscle weakness slowly gets worse or is accompanied by other unusual symptoms, it is best to visit to your doctor. It may be a sign of an acquired muscle disease, an immune condition, or an inherited disorder that manifests late in life.

Sudden arm muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in any part of the body may indicate serious problems in the brain (e.g. stroke), the spinal cord (e.g. radiculopathy) a specific nerve in the body (e.g. nerve entrapment). Immediate medical consultation is recommended.

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