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An extremity is a limb or appendage of the body such as the hands, legs or feet. Some extremity pain can develop over time, due to wear and tear and the effects of aging. Other types of extremity pain can come on suddenly. Extremity pain may be referred to as either “lower” or “upper.” Lower extremity pain includes legs, ankles and feet. Upper extremity pain includes arm, wrist, shoulder and hands.

Warning Signs & Symptoms

There can be different signs and symptoms for different types of extremity pain.

  • Lower extremity pain is often related to body position, meaning it gets better or worse depending on how your body is positioned. It can also happen during or after a specific activity. At other times, there seems to be no apparent cause for the pain,
  • Upper extremity pain is often due to overuse. In general, the more repetitive the motion, the more strain it requires. Also, the more frequently it happens, the greater the chance for injury and pain. Overuse injuries most often affect the shoulders and wrists.

In some cases, extremity pain actually originates from a problem in another part of the body, such as the neck or spine, but is felt in the extremity.

Possible Risk Factors

There are several of reasons why people experience extremity pain. Some of the possible causes of extremity pain are:

  • Arthritis
  • Vascular damage
  • Bursitis
  • Deep vein thrombosis
  • Diabetes
  • Fractures
  • Infection
  • Ligament tears
  • Myofascial pain (muscle connective tissue)
  • Muscle strain, tension, tears, spasms or cramps
  • Overuse
  • Poor posture
  • Improper use (repetitive motion injuries)
  • Sciatica
  • Tendonitis
  • Trauma, bone fracture injuries
  • Weak muscle tone

Tests to Diagnose Extremity Pain

Extremity pain is diagnosed through a medical examination, including health history. Physicians also begin the diagnostic procedure by palpating sore areas, testing your range of motion or performing nerve function tests.

X-rays and MRIs are often recommended to more closely examine the area and determine the source of the pain. Each type of imaging procedure provides different information—for instance, while X-rays primarily show the bones, an MRI can reveal soft tissue damage as well as skeletal abnormalities.

Depending on the patient’s situation, physicians may also order a blood or urine test to see if the pain is being caused by an infection or another problem unrelated to the extremities themselves.

Treatment Options

Non or minimally-invasive options such as medications, lifestyle modifications or massage therapy can help relieve extremity pain. If these options do not help reduce or eliminate pain, a physician may recommend a procedure. Examples include pain injections, nerve blocks or other intervention procedures.