What are the Most Common Causes of Underarm Pain?

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  • Written By: Donn Saylor
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 15 June 2019
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The most common causes of underarm pain include glandular swelling, colds, cysts, pulled muscles, and shingles. Many fear the worst when experiencing a painful underarm area, but in most cases, the pain is not indicative of any serious or life-threatening ailment. As long as the armpit pain is not long-lasting or chronic, it is typically a minor discomfort that will vanish as quickly as it arrived.

Underarm pain is frequently caused by swollen lymphatic glands. Lymph nodes encompass the region under the arm and, in women, around the breasts; the lymph nodes are extremely sensitive and can swell easily, but, fortunately, it is rarely cause for alarm. The swelling tends to dissipate in a few days. However, individuals with swollen lymph glands are advised to monitor the condition; if it persists, medical intervention may be necessary. In those unusual cases where swollen glands do not go away of their own accord, there is a small chance they could indicate some strain of serious viral infection or cancer.

The common cold can cause the entire body to ache. Upper respiratory tract infection has been known to initiate soreness throughout the body, and one frequent symptom is underarm pain. Healthcare professionals advise plenty of rest, vitamin C, and, if necessary, over-the-counter medications to combat the physical aches associated with colds. Typically, the arm pain lessens and eventually heals with the rest of the body.


Cysts can develop quite easily in the underarm arm. Tiny sacs of fluid and debris tend to build up in this warm, moist, dark area, and, in the vast majority of cases, they are completely benign — simply the body's way of eliminating excess dirt and toxins. Despite their usually innocuous nature, cysts can cause some fairly significant underarm pain. If an individual feels a cyst in the armpit, it is commonly recommended that he or she get it checked out by a doctor. Some types of cancer first manifest themselves in this fashion, though in most cases, a cyst is just a natural byproduct of the body's cleansing processes.

Another frequent cause of underarm pain is a pulled muscle. This can often be one of the most excruciating types of armpit pain. The pectorallis muscle can be strained from either an intense round at the gym or just picking up a sack of groceries. Doctors suggest heat, ice, and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories as a good course of treatment.

Herpes zoster, or shingles, is a painful condition in which a virus attacks the body and elicits an uncomfortable skin rash. They tend to break out on one side of the body only, on the back, chest, and arms. Underarm pain is a common byproduct of shingles.


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Post 4

I am having pain below my underarm. I feel it is like a muscle pain. I feel nervous because I've just had a thyroedectomy operation. There is no cyst but I feel muscle pain inline with my underbra on my left underarm. What should I do?

Post 3

I thought it was kind of strange when my underarms started aching the last time I had the flu. I feel lucky that I have the internet to look all of this stuff up on, otherwise I might feel like a bit of a freak. I didn't even realize that there were lymph nodes under there. I thought the only glands that swelled up when you were sick were the ones on your neck.

Post 2

@pastanaga - It's good to realize that it's possible to get "breast" lumps in your armpits. They have some breast tissue as well but many women don't think of them as a danger zone.

I used to get breast and underarm pain from my bra as well, but after I got some that fit really well, the pain stopped. That's not going to be true of every woman, unfortunately, but I would double check that you're wearing the right size, if you're in pain from it.

Post 1

I was told by a doctor that there is a simple way to tell the difference between a cyst and a cancerous lump. A cyst will be smooth and round and will move freely underneath the skin. It will often be painful as well and will swell fairly quickly.

A lump will be jagged and feel rough and won't move freely. It may or may not be painful.

I tend to get cysts under my armpits a lot, probably because I have large breasts and my bra tends to dig into my skin there a bit. After having a bit of pain in my armpit and finding bumps there as a teenager I eventually became worried that I would miss a real lump because I was so used to ignoring the cysts. But, in theory, you should be able to tell the difference.

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