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Debilitating upper extremity muscle and joint pain and weakness
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Debilitating upper extremity muscle and joint pain and weakness

I am a 76-year old woman experiencing debilitating pain, weakness and joint pain, from shoulders to hands and fingers.  

Problems started about a year ago when I experienced an overwhelming feeling of achey (achy) weakness overtaking both arms--shoulders to hands.  No pain, just an almost incapacitating weakness and heaviness followed by shakiness.  It lasted about a minute and was followed by lesser degree of weakness and shakiness from elbows down to and including wrists and hands; it lasted from one to two hours.  And it has occurred about 6-8 times over the year since then, the last two about a month apart.

Balance, vision and hearing (other than 40+ years tinnitus) are fine. No problems with blood sugar, cholesterol, BP or pulse ox... 82/140/78/99 respectively.  There ws no pain or ache in my neck, back, arms or hands, either prior, post or associated with it.  I do have basal joint arthritis, and although I can't open jars very well or squeeze my thumb and forefinger together well, I don’t think is connected.  I've been in no accidents or had any falls

But now, I have developed debilitating pain in my shoulders, arms and hands, beginning at night.  I can barely turn in bed.  I can’t reach across my chest, or behind, lift them up or above my shoulders.  The muscles and joints (and tendons?) in my hands and wrists are stiff and sore and hurt when trying to make a fist or splaying my fingers apart.  I can hardly open bottles.

During the daytime the pain eases a lot, but my shoulders, arms and hands remain stiff and sore and I have a difficult time reaching behind my back to snap my bra.
Tags: Bilateral arm pain & weakness
on the information you provided here. Please make sure you recognize that this forum is for educational purposes only, and it does not substitute for a formal office visit with a doctor.

Without the ability to examine and obtain a history, I can not tell you what the exact cause of the symptoms is. However I will try to provide you with some useful information.

I am sorry to hear that you are experiencing so much pain.

From the symptoms you are describing, there could be three possible problems: a nerve problem, a muscle problem or a joint/arthritis problem.

In the nerve problem category one thing to consider is something called a compressive cervical radiculopathy.

Radiculopathy occurs when nerve roots (coming out of the spinal cord) become compressed at the neck or spine and this results in pain, tingling, and numbness, with or without loss of function in the area supplied by the affected nerve. Common causes of cervical radiculopathy are neural foramen narrowing (neural foramen is the canal through which the nerve exits) , usually caused by cervical arthritis in older adults, and cervical disk lesion caused by disk degeneration or herniation. Disk degeneration results in loss of disk space, with closer approximation of the vertebrae on either side of the involved disk space and subsequent impingement on the neural foramen. The decrease in size of the neural foramen results in nerve root compression. The cervical disk spaces are more often affected. Disk herniation also occurs more often in these.

Common symptoms include pain radiating to the shoulder or down the upper extremity, which may be aggravated by coughing, sneezing, or straining; tingling of the fingers; and less often, weakness in the extremity. You may have  tenderness on the neck, limitation in certain movements of the neck.

Diagnostic tests include radiographs of the cervical spine and MRI.
Treatment relieves pressure on the affected nerve and is mainly conservative, including rest, pain relief, stress reduction, and short-term muscle relaxants. If symptoms are persistent you may need structured physical therapy and referral to a neurologist. Neurologic signs and symptoms and loss of strength are also indications for referral to neurosurgery. A few patients require surgical intervention.

Muscle problems can be inflammatory myopathies like polymyositis or it could be something called polymyalgia rheumatic.

Joint/arthritis problems can be diseases like osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis or another autoimmune arthritis

From your description of symptoms, more likely it is a joint/arthritis problem. I would recommend evaluation by a rheumatologist. They can evaluate you for both muscle as well as joint problems. If those test negative then you may consider seeing a neurologist

Thank you for this opportunity to answer your questions, I hope you find the information I have provided useful, good luck

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