I can’t lift my arm. What should I do?

After a shoulder injury, you can have pain and weakness of your shoulder and arm. If you’re thinking, “I can’t lift my arm,” and you wonder what you could have done, watch this Ask Dr. Geier video. I offer tips for what to do next.

I can’t lift my arm. What should I do?

Pain can be a common reason you can’t lift your arm. You aggravate your shoulder somehow, flaring it up and causing a shoulder impingement type of problem. That pain alone can make it hard to lift your arm, because the higher you lift it, the more pain you experience as the rotator cuff tendons rub against the tip of your shoulder blade.

On the other hand, you could have injured one of the structures in your shoulder. For example, you could have a rotator cuff tear or labral tear, leading to weakness independent of your pain.

Physical therapist working on a patient's shoulder after she complained, "I can't lift my arm."

In this video, I describe some of the causes of difficulty lifting your arm. I offer possible diagnoses for your pain and weakness. I then discuss when it might be appropriate to go to the emergency room, when you should see an orthopedic surgeon and when you can wait a few days or see a physical therapist.

Also read:
How long are you sore and stiff after dislocating your shoulder?
What can I do to recover from shoulder impingement?

Please remember, while I appreciate your questions, I cannot and will not offer specific medical advice by email, on my website, on my podcast, or in social media. My responses are meant to provide general medical information and education. Please consult your physician or health care provider for your specific medical concerns.

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