We all sneeze. It’s a natural human response, which means that sneezing is a mechanism we can’t control. Sneezes are uncomfortable and sometimes can even feel embarrassing, but they are usually harmless. Occasionally, sneezes can be physically painful and cause pain in various body parts, such as the arms.
If you are someone who feels pain in your arms when you sneeze, you may be wondering why – and whether it’s normal. Read on to discover why you may feel pain in your arms when you sneeze.
Why do we sneeze?
Sneezing is a reflex that occurs when something foreign enters the nose and the body attempts to clear it. This could be mucus secretions from a virus infection, common allergens such as dust or pollen, or irritating substances such as cigarette smoke. When our bodies encounter these things, we sneeze to get rid of them and protect ourselves from the irritant.
Common causes of sneezing include:
- Viruses such as the flu, COVID-19, or common cold
- Allergens such as mold, dust, dog dander, or pollen
- Air pollution
- Emotional reactions
- Sensitivity to perfume
- Inhalation of allergy and asthma medications, such as corticosteroids
- Exposure to sunlight
Is it normal for your body to hurt when you sneeze?
While sneezing is typically annoying, it is not usually a cause for concern. Sneezing is a way for your body to protect itself from viruses, allergens, and particulates from air pollution or other sources.
However, if you experience pain while sneezing, it can be a sign of an underlying problem, such as a spinal injury or pinched nerve. This is why it is always important to see a doctor if you find sneezing to be painful.
Different kinds of pain in arms while sneezing
The location of the arm pain, as well as the intensity of arm pain, can vary depending on the person. Some people experience pain or numbness in their elbow, whereas others may experience pain in the chest, shoulders, or lower arm. The amount of time the person will be in pain also varies from one individual to another.
For some people, the pain may be experienced only for a few brief seconds, while for others it can last minutes or even longer.
There are various ways people experience pain in their arms:
- Shooting pain in the arms from a herniated disk
- Pain in the shoulders and arms resulting from upper body tension
- Tingling, numbness, and pain associated with pinched nerves
- Wrist pain during a sneeze may be associated with carpal tunnel or tendonitis
- Elbow pain during or after a sneeze can be caused by “tennis elbow,” a type of tendonitis
- Pain from a broken bone
What causes arm pain after sneezing?
When you pinch a nerve, it can cause symptoms such as tingling, pain, and numbness. After a movement such as the powerful explosion of a sneeze, the nerve can become more compressed, which causes momentary pain after the sneeze.
A muscle strain, otherwise known as a pulled muscle, can occur when the muscle is torn or stretched. Muscle strains result from overexertion during exercise, or from twisting or lifting movements.
It is also possible for a sneeze to cause a muscle strain; this may happen when the muscles in the upper back tense up during a sneeze. A muscle strain may then cause the arms to ache, and the ache may radiate from your back and down the arm.
A muscle sprain may be another source of arm pain while sneezing. Experiencing a fall may tear or damage the ligament that keeps a joint together. Sprains typically occur in the wrist, shoulders, or elbows. Pain from a sprain may be exacerbated by a sneeze.
The human spine consists of a vertically stacked series of bones called vertebrae. Sometimes the vertebrae come out of place: this is called a dislocation. A dislocation occurs when a bone slips out of its joint, meaning it is no longer where it should be.
When one of your vertebrae is dislocated, it can impact surrounding nerves and cause pain and discomfort throughout the body. When you sneeze, it puts stress on the spine, which then irritates the surrounding nerves. You may experience pain from a sneeze when there are nerves connected to the arms.
Each of your vertebrae has a spongy disk in between them. Spinal disks are soft on the inside. Sometimes a spinal disk can rupture, causing a herniated disk. When you have a herniated disc, the jelly-like material inside pushes outside of the spinal disk, putting pressure on nearby nerves. Then when you sneeze, the jelly-like material pushes harder against the nerve, leading to pain.
Vertebral compression fractures
A vertebral compression fracture, otherwise known as a VCF, is when there is a small crack in one of your spinal vertebrae. According to the American Journal of Family Physicians, vertebral compression fractures are most common in people with osteoporosis, a disorder that causes the bones to thin (McCarthy & Davis, 2016). Osteoporosis is most common in post-menopausal women.
For those with osteoporosis, a sneeze can be so powerful that it causes a fracture, and during and after the sneeze, it’s common to feel pain in your arms. When you have a VCF, it’s common to experience back pain when you sneeze or cough.
Stress fractures of the arms
Repeated motions can create tiny cracks in the arm bones called hairline fractures, otherwise known as stress fractures. While the pain of a stress fracture typically occurs when doing the activity that caused them, pain from a stress fracture may also be triggered by a powerful sneeze. Stress fractures typically heal on their own, but in some cases may require surgery.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the inflammation of a tube in the wrist called the carpal tunnel. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine (n.d.), the syndrome is three times more likely in women. The most common symptoms of carpal tunnel include tingling, numbness, and pain in the wrist and hand.
Pain caused by carpal tunnel syndrome can worsen during or after a sneeze. Carpal tunnel has various causes, such as repetitive movements, joint or bone disease, hormonal imbalances, genetic tendency, or changes in blood sugar levels.
Tendonitis pain arises from repeated movements such as using a hammer, texting, playing video games, typing, or gardening. These repetitive movements cause tiny tears in the tendons of your wrists or elbow. Tendonitis can cause your arm to have a burning sensation that may become noticeable during a sneeze.
Falling can cause the arm bones to break; this is more common in older adults. Other causes of broken arm bones include car accidents, or collisions in contact sports. During the time a broken bone is healing in a cast, a sneeze may exacerbate arm pain.
What are the dangers of arm pain when sneezing?
Most of the time, experiencing arm pain during or after a sneeze does not pose any danger. However, there is a small risk of losing control over a vehicle while driving during a sneeze. This is because sneezing causes you to close your eyes for a brief moment involuntarily. In addition, drivers who experience arm pain while sneezing may also be at risk of losing control. This happens because the sneezing pain may temporarily block sensory and control abilities.
Another way arm pain when sneezing could be dangerous is if a forceful sneeze causes an injury in someone who has weakened bones. Those with osteoporosis are more prone to experiencing injuries from sneezes.
How to prevent pain during sneezing?
While you may not be able to prevent pain while sneezing altogether, there are ways to minimize it. The first step for reducing and preventing pain while sneezing is to figure out the root cause of the pain, which is typically an underlying medical issue.
There are various methods for determining the cause of the arm pain while sneezing. These include MRIs, x-rays, and physical exams to determine where the pain originates.
Certain exercises may help reduce arm pain from sneezing. A doctor may recommend physical therapy as a possible treatment for arm pain. Other possible treatments may include non-steroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAIDS) medications such as ibuprofen or steroids to reduce inflammation. Pain from strained muscles may be relieved through using cold or warm compresses.
Prevention of pain while sneezing may also involve treating any allergies that cause sneezing. Commonly used allergy medicines are OTC drugs such as Claritin or Zyrtec. Allergies may be avoided by minimizing exposure to allergens such as dust and danger with regular cleaning practices.
When to see a doctor?
It’s time to see a doctor if you are experiencing daily pain in your arms or if they hurt every time you sneeze. Arm pain while sneezing can indicate an underlying medical condition, which requires treatment.
You should seek help from a doctor if you experience:
- Numbness or tingling in the arms or fingertips
- You have arm pain that is not going away when you rest it
- You have persistent pain even at rest
- Swelling anywhere on your arm
- Pain that returns when you do various activities
- Arm pain while sneezing or coughing
In some cases of arm pain while sneezing, emergency care may be necessary. For example, some arm pain while sneezing could be related to a heart issue.
Seek emergency medical attention if you have:
- Sudden pain down your left arm, shortness of breath, nausea, chest pressure, or back pain; this could be a sign of a heart attack
- Deformity of your arm
- A broken bone
- A deep cut or wound
- Severe arm pain
- Loss of pulse or coolness of your arm
- Signs of an infection such as a fever or discharge around a wound
Get help from an online doctor
Experiencing arm pain while sneezing can be frustrating and unpleasant, but DrHouse doctors can quickly address your symptoms and get to the root cause. With DrHouse, you can connect to a board-certified clinician in 15 minutes or less.
DrHouse is a telemedicine app that allows you to have an appointment with an online doctor from the privacy of your own home. During the video call, the doctor can identify possible causes of your arm pain. An online doctor will answer your medical questions and determine what medications are needed to treat your arm pain while sneezing.
DrHouse can help with a variety of health concerns, such as:
- COVID-19 or flu advice
- Ear, nose, and throat issues
- Heart, lung, and chest issues
- Bone, joint, and muscle conditions
With DrHouse, you can quickly get medical prescriptions and prescription refills. We help everyone, whether you are insured or not.
All DrHouse doctors have graduated from top U.S. medical schools, which ensures that an experienced, skilled doctor will treat you. This way, you can quickly learn why your arm hurts when you sneeze, and find relief from your pain.
We also have a care assistant for 24/7 chat support. If you need to see a doctor in person, an appointment to see a doctor the same day at a nearby clinic can be scheduled.
With assistance from medical professionals from the DrHouse app, you will be feeling better in no time.
Sneezing is a natural response when the nose comes in contact with irritants such as allergens, air pollutants, and viruses. For some people, sneezing can trigger pain in the arms. It is not a typical response and is typically a sign of an underlying problem, such as an arm injury, spinal issues, or a pinched nerve.
Pain in the arms while sneezing is experienced differently depending on the person and the cause of the arm pain. Treatments for arm pain while sneezing may involve medications to relieve pain or to reduce the allergies that trigger sneezing.
Arm pain from sneezing is not something you should ignore. By seeing an online doctor with DrHouse, we can quickly determine why you experience arm pain from sneezing and can prescribe appropriate treatments for your pain.
- Andarawis-Puri, N., Flatow, E. L., & Soslowsky, L. J. (2015). Tendon basic science: Development, repair, regeneration, and healing. Journal of Orthopedic Research: Official Publication of the Orthopedic Research Society, 33(6), 780–784. https://doi.org/10.1002/jor.22869
- Carpal tunnel syndrome. Johns Hopkins Medicine. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/carpal-tunnel-syndrome
- Herniated disc. AANS. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2022, from https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Herniated-Disc
- Roland, J (2019, August 6).What causes back pain when you sneeze? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/back-pain/back-pain-when-sneezing#causes
- Songu, M., & Cingi, C. (2009). Sneeze reflex: facts and fiction. Therapeutic advances in respiratory disease, 3(3), 131–141. https://doi.org/10.1177/1753465809340571
- Vertebral compression fractures. AANS. (n.d.). Retrieved June 18, 2022, from https://www.aans.org/en/Patients/Neurosurgical-Conditions-and-Treatments/Vertebral-Compression-Fractures
- WebMD. (n.d.). Why your arm hurts. WebMD. Retrieved June 18, 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/ss/slideshow-arm-pain-causes
- Why do we sneeze? (2000, April 17). Scientific American. Retrieved June 18, 2022, from https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-we-sneeze/