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Jeruba's avatar

Sudden sharp pain: any hypotheses?

Asked by Jeruba (52209points) October 26th, 2020

I know, I know, I always tell others to see your doctor—but I could at least use a working hypothesis. Seeing my doctor is much more of a challenge than it used to be. It would help if I could do something for myself, and also if I could classify this condition to narrow it down a little bit.

Sharp pain. Focused in one specific spot.
Onset: yesterday. Increased today, steadily, over several hours. Leveling off but still very sharp.
Location: about 6” beneath left armpit, measured from the uppermost recession of the armpit, and a couple of inches toward the rear from that point. There’s a rib there, but no reason to think I’ve injured it.
Relieved by direct pressure from my left hand. Relief only while pressure is applied; resumes with no change when pressure stops. Because of location, keeping pressure on is really awkward, causing fatigue of the hand and strain on the shoulder.
No felt lump or abnormality at the site.
Nothing seen by close visual examination or palpation by my husband and no apparent difference from the other (unaffected) side.
Nothing that I’m aware of has happened: no injury, unaccustomed movement, unusual stretch or impact. No identified correlation with anything.
Never had this before, and it doesn’t feel quite like anything else I have ever had before, which would include muscle strains, fractures, and dislocations in various places.

Ideas? Thank you.

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29 Answers

JLeslie's avatar

Does it feel like a knife or more like a nerve? Nerve feels to me more like a thin straight wire from inside out to the skin surface. Hard to explain.

Weird location, I actually have no real idea what it is from what you described. At first I thought maybe muscular, but it sounds like you have ruled that out.

Do you think it’s far enough towards your back to be from a disk?

I’d watch for a rash tomorrow on the off chance it’s shingles. Wild guessing on my part. My shingles is more itchy, but some people get pain.

Edit: do you think it’s from your gastrointestinal tract?

SmashTheState's avatar

Pain in the torso is nearly always “referred,” meaning where you’re experiencing it is usually unrelated to its origin.

Jeruba's avatar

@JLeslie, I don’t know. Maybe a knife. I haven’t ruled anything out. Weird location, I agree—it’s a part of my body that I don’t usually have to think about.

Had all my shingles shots.

@SmashTheState, hmm, referred. I’ve certainly had that with rotator cuff injuries. This is so high on the side, though. It’s like a nowhereland. I wish I could do something right now because it keeps making me gasp. I’ve slept through a lot of pain at one time or another, including postsurgical, but this feels like it’s going to make sleep difficult.

Pandora's avatar

It could be any number of things. From a pinched nerve, gas, to a pain actually radiating from another spot or maybe even some sort of blockage in a vein. I once had a nerve that was being pinched in the back of my neck. No pain there but my arm went from on fire, to feeling like my bones were broken and eventually complete numbness and no feeling in my fingers for weeks. Nerves are a crazy thing. In the meantime, I would take some aspirin just in case it’s some sort of blockage. And if it’s a pinched nerve, it may reduce the inflammation on the nerve. I trust you will see a doctor about it, even if it resolves itself. For a while too I would wake up with my foot in severe pain in the morning. Realized one night as I was falling asleep that I had a habit of tucking my foot under my leg and it was twisted as I slept and that was causing the pain in the morning. Wish you luck.

Jeruba's avatar

@Pandora, good thought. Nerves go everywhere, so I guess that’s possible. But this is like one small specific spot that I can put my finger on. I already have so many other kinds of pain going on, from neck to foot, that it takes something for this one to stand out as special. All the others, though, seem to be related to something, and this is like a fresh random gift from the universe.

JLeslie's avatar

Knife could be gastrointestinal. Are you constipated? Did it start after you ate something? Have you been very sedentary all day?

Not being able to breath doesn’t sound good.

Pandora's avatar

When you are pressing a spot then you are blocking the nerve from sending a message there is pain. So I think it makes more sense that it’s a nerve issue. Try massaging around the spot instead or maybe putting ice on that spot to bring down any inflammation. Aspirin would still help. By the way. I get fresh random new pains from the Universe as well. It’s called aging. Though it may not work if the pain is actually from somewhere else. I once had a mosquito bite that really itched and every time I scratched it I would get a quick stabbing pain on my side. Nerves are kinda tricky.

Jeruba's avatar

No, JL, it’s way above the GI system, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t go up to the armpit or wrap around the side. I can breathe ok. The gasp is for the repeat sudden sharpness when I let up the pressure. It also doesn’t seem to be related to movement or lack of.

Good point about the pressure, @Pandora. I’ll be taking some ibuprofen anyway at bedtime for the other things that hurt.

Maybe I’ll get up tomorrow and this will be nothing.

Thanks for all suggestions. I appreciate the help.

JLeslie's avatar

I see. Sounds like a nerve.

Although, when I had a disk injury the pain was unbelievable, and sharp and constant. I felt it where my birdie bone is on one side, so a little further around the back than you describe. I would have thought I would feel it closer to my spine, but that wasn’t the case. The thing is, I don’t think pressure helped it. So that’s not the same.

Pandora's avatar

@Jeruba still get it checked. There are two major vessels that travel through the armpit. I know this because my husband would tell me it’s a good place to stab someone if I had to defend myself.

Jeruba's avatar

Yikes, Pan, thanks for that cheerful thought.

Pandora's avatar

@Jeruba , I just wanted to make sure you don’t wave it off as nothing and it turns out to be something big.

JLeslie's avatar

True, circulatory problems can cause underarm pain.

Oh my. So many options.

Could it be a lymph node?

Pandora's avatar

Oh, another thing you can try if it should be just a pinched nerve is warm up some Witch Hazel and put I on a towel and let it rest on the spot where it hurts. If you don’t have that Epsom salt diluted in warm water and applied the same way will help with inflammation. Provided like I said the actual inflammation is also in that same spot.

gorillapaws's avatar

I vote for a telehealth consult with your provider. Another detail that might be worth paying attention to is if the pain is relieved or exacerbated by your body position. Does prolonged sitting/standing/laying down in various positions improve/worsen your symptoms?

Pain is an important indicator that tells you something is wrong. Also, remember if you do develop breathing issues, you should call 911, as that could be life threatening.

Don’t screw around when it comes to your health. You do have lymph nodes below the armpits FYI.

Jeruba's avatar

@gorillapaws, thanks very much. I forgot about lymph nodes, and I shouldn’t have, because my son has been treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Going to go look up exactly where they are.

I haven’t correlated this to anything, but I haven’t tried lying down yet. It’s bedtime now, so I’ll know more soon. So far, no change with movement or stillness.

Again, I appreciate all responses. I can usually ignore all the various pains, but this one says “notice me.”

Pandora's avatar

I wish you well and pray it isn’t anything serious.

JLeslie's avatar

Even though I suggested lymph nodes also, I think of the nodes as being further up tucked under the armpit or if a few inches below slightly more forward towards the breast, while you describe your pain more towards the back.

Please let us know how you’re doing. Don’t wait too long to get it checked. Hopefully, it disappears as quickly as it came.

janbb's avatar

How did you sleep?

kritiper's avatar

I get a pain like that after sitting in my chair and leaning on the armrest. I quit leaning and the pain goes away after several days/weeks. Keep in mind that it’s easier to break a rib than one might imagine.

Tropical_Willie's avatar

I agree with @kritiper a “cracked” rib would be a possibility. Especially with pressure relieving pain, I know.

Have you coughed real hard (even once in the last few days), or bent over to the side to reach and get something ? ?

si3tech's avatar

Do you have any shortness of breath?

JLeslie's avatar

Cracked rib is an interesting guess. I hope @Jeruba is ok today.

@si3tech She doesn’t have shortness of breath.

gondwanalon's avatar

Sounds like you may have an abdominal hernia.

I’ve been suffering with three hernia (2 abdominal and one inguinal). Sudden sharp pains disappear when I maintain pressure on the right spot. I’ve put off surgery because of the China Virus pandemic.

Get it checked out. If the pain remains intense then go right to the ED.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Can you vary the pain through a change in either your breathing or posture?

Jeruba's avatar

Hi. Had to jump and run this morning, appointments and errands. It’s nearly 3 p.m. now. Sorry for the suspense.

The pain eased off when I lay down last night and started again as soon as I stood up, coming in waves at that point instead of steady. When I finally settled for the night, it stopped, inexplicably, as far as I was concerned. This morning the spot was tender to the touch—still is—but the sharp pain has abated.

As they say where I come from, weeyid.

My breathing was not affected, and I have no shortness of breath or any particular coughing—just a little infrequent dry-throat tickle.

I really think the armpit is out of abdominal range. Cracked rib isn’t ruled out.

The suggestion of leaning on the armrest sounds plausible because I do that at my desk all the time, left side. I’m going to watch that.

In fact, I’m going to pay attention to everything I do for a couple of days in case it comes back. I should also get bonus Zen points for that.

Many thanks for all thoughts and everyone’s concern. I truly appreciate it.

JLeslie's avatar

Sounds muscular to me. I’m so glad it eased up. Let’s hope it completely improves quickly.

JLeslie's avatar

@Jeruba How are you doing?

Jeruba's avatar

Update: No recurrence, and still no clear cause and effect, but I’m watching for any sign.
For now, I guess I’ll recall the indisputable logic of the advice my doctor once gave me about something else: “Let’s wait and see if it recurs, and if it doesn’t, then it was just a one-time thing.”

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