The Surprising Link Between Coughing and Arm Pain: What You Need to Know

Coughing is a reflex action that helps clear your airways of irritants and mucus. It is a common symptom of many respiratory infections and conditions such as colds, flu, and bronchitis. However, what many people may not realize is that coughing can also lead to arm pain. This surprising link between coughing and arm pain has puzzled many individuals who experience this discomfort.

The sensation of arm pain when coughing can be explained by a phenomenon known as referred pain. Referred pain occurs when pain is felt in one part of the body, but the source of the pain is located in another part of the body. In the case of arm pain when coughing, the pain is typically referred from the diaphragm or the muscles surrounding the rib cage. These muscles are involved in the coughing process, and when they are strained or irritated, they can cause pain to radiate to the arms.

This connection between coughing and arm pain has gained more attention in recent years as more individuals report experiencing this discomfort. In fact, studies have shown that up to 30% of people who suffer from chronic cough also experience arm pain. This statistic highlights the importance of understanding this link and finding ways to alleviate the discomfort associated with it.

For those who are experiencing arm pain when coughing, there are some strategies that may help reduce the discomfort. Practicing proper coughing techniques, such as supporting your chest with your hands while coughing, can help minimize the strain on the muscles involved in the coughing process. Additionally, staying hydrated and taking breaks to rest and relax the muscles can also help alleviate arm pain when coughing.

Why Does My Arm Hurt When I Cough?

When you cough, it is natural for your chest and abdominal muscles to contract in order to expel air from your lungs. However, sometimes this can lead to unexpected pain in other parts of your body, such as your arm. The most common reason for arm pain when coughing is due to a condition called referred pain.

Referred pain occurs when the nerves that supply a certain area of the body overlap with the nerves from another area. For example, the nerves in your chest and arm may share some of the same pathways, so when there is irritation or inflammation in your chest from coughing, you may feel pain in your arm as well. This phenomenon is known as referred pain and is a common occurrence in the human body.

Another reason for arm pain when coughing could be due to a muscle strain or injury. If you have recently engaged in physical activity that put strain on your arm muscles, coughing can exacerbate the pain and discomfort in that area. It is important to rest and allow your muscles to heal in order to alleviate the pain.

Furthermore, certain medical conditions such as pneumonia or pleurisy can also cause arm pain when coughing. These conditions can lead to inflammation in the chest cavity, which can radiate pain to other parts of the body, including the arms. If you are experiencing persistent or severe arm pain when coughing, it is important to consult with a healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause and receive appropriate treatment.

In conclusion, arm pain when coughing can be caused by a variety of factors such as referred pain, muscle strain, or underlying medical conditions. By understanding the potential reasons for this discomfort, you can take the necessary steps to address the issue and alleviate the pain. Next, we will delve deeper into the different causes of arm pain when coughing and explore potential treatment options.

Why Does My Arm Hurt When I Cough?

One of the most common reasons why your arm might hurt when you cough is due to a condition known as costochondritis. Costochondritis is the inflammation of the cartilage that connects your ribs to your sternum. When you cough, sneeze, or take deep breaths, the movement of your chest can exacerbate the pain in your chest and radiate to your arms.

Another Possible Explanation

Another possible explanation for arm pain when coughing is a herniated disc in the neck. When you cough, the forceful movement can put pressure on the nerves in your neck, causing pain that radiates down your arm. This type of pain is often described as a sharp, shooting pain that can be felt in the shoulder, arm, or hand.

What to Do If You Experience Arm Pain When Coughing

  • Rest and avoid activities that exacerbate the pain
  • Apply ice to the affected area to reduce inflammation
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication to manage the discomfort
  • If the pain persists or worsens, seek medical attention from a healthcare professional


Arm pain when coughing can be surprising and concerning, but it is often a result of underlying conditions that can be managed with proper care and treatment. If you experience persistent or severe pain when coughing, it is important to consult a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

Why does my arm hurt when I cough?

When you cough, the forceful contraction of your diaphragm and chest muscles can put pressure on the nerves in your spine that also supply the muscles in your arm, leading to referred pain. This is why you may experience arm pain when you cough.

Is arm pain when coughing a sign of a serious medical condition?

In most cases, arm pain when coughing is nothing to be too concerned about and is usually due to referred pain. However, if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, it could be a sign of a more serious underlying medical condition and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider.

How can I relieve arm pain when coughing?

One way to relieve arm pain when coughing is to try to control your coughing with over-the-counter cough suppressants or by staying hydrated. Additionally, you can try supporting your arm when coughing with a pillow or wearing a brace for extra support.

Should I see a doctor for arm pain when coughing?

If your arm pain when coughing is mild and goes away on its own, you may not need to see a doctor. However, if the pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms, it is best to seek medical attention to rule out any underlying medical conditions that may be causing the pain.


In conclusion, the sensation of arm pain when coughing can often be attributed to a variety of underlying factors. One of the main reasons for this occurrence is due to the interconnection of nerves in the body, particularly those between the diaphragm and the shoulder. When the diaphragm contracts during a cough, it can pull on these interconnected nerves, causing referred pain to be felt in the arm. Additionally, underlying conditions such as muscle strain, arthritis, or even heart-related issues can also manifest as arm pain when coughing. It is crucial for individuals experiencing this symptom to consult with a healthcare professional to determine the root cause and appropriate treatment plan.

Moreover, preventive measures such as maintaining good posture, staying hydrated, and practicing deep breathing exercises can help alleviate some of the discomfort associated with arm pain while coughing. Strengthening muscles through regular exercise and taking breaks to rest and stretch during periods of prolonged coughing can also aid in managing this symptom. By understanding the interplay between the body’s nerves and muscles, individuals can better address and potentially mitigate the discomfort of arm pain when coughing.

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