Axilla or armpit is one of the places of the body where we least expect to have pain or any such problem. But the fact is, it is one of the sensitive regions in the body with plenty of nerves and blood vessels running in it and with it being close to the breast, our immediate thought goes to breast cancer upon experiencing any pain there. But the good news is, most of the pain in axilla or axillary pain is harmless and usually not a cause for concern. However, there are some situations where axillary pain can indicate something serious.

There are a number of ways in which you can experience pain in axilla or axillary pain. Patients can develop a lump under the arm, which becomes the primary source of pain in axilla. In some cases, there can be irritation of the skin of the axilla resulting in pain under the arm. Other reason could be the structures present in the axilla can also cause pain. The pain can also radiate towards the axilla from some other area meaning that there is some other cause other than armpit for the pain.

There are different causes of pain in axilla. One such cause is enlargement of the lymph node. Other causes include traumatic injury, nervous system disorder or other medical conditions. Given below are some causes of pain in the axilla.

What Can Cause Pain in Axilla?

What Can Cause Pain in Axilla

  • Common cold can cause aches and pain all the over the body including the armpit. Upper respiratory tract infections can also cause pain in axilla or axillary pain. This pain resolves slowly as the cold also resolves.
  • Allergies as in allergic reaction of the skin can occur from use of soaps, antiperspirants or deodorants. Along with pain in axilla, there can be redness and swelling as a result of the infection.
  • Heartburn occurs as a result of indigestion where the stomach acids travel upwards through the esophagus and towards the heart. The pain from the heart burn can radiate towards the axilla leading to a sharp pain for a few minutes.
  • Pulled Muscles can cause acute pain in axilla or acute axillary pain. Strain of the pectoralis muscle can also lead to axillary pain.
  • Injury to the Brachial Plexus can also lead to pain in axilla or axillary pain. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves located in the neck and shoulder, which also extends towards the armpit. The brachial plexus can be injured from pressure, stretching, traction etc. In severe cases, the nerves can also tear away from the cervical spine roots or the neck. Other than the pain in axilla or armpit, patient also has tingling and numbness of the arm with decreased motor control.
  • Shingles can develop in individuals who have had chickenpox. This infection usually begins in one area of the body, and often in the axilla causing pain there.
  • Breast Cancer is a serious medical condition where the patient commonly experiences pain in axilla or axillary pain and formation of hard spots adjacent to the breast. Such type of symptoms should never be ignored.
  • Degeneration of the Connective Tissue or decaying of the connective tissue also causes pain in axilla or axillary pain, but lumps may not be present. The pain in axilla worsens upon stretching or moving the arms.
  • Cerebrovascular Accident causes damage to some part of the brain, which can also lead to disturbance in the brain functioning, headaches or dizziness. The nerve endings of the axilla can also be damaged and cause pain in axilla or axillary pain which is similar to an electric current.
  • Diabetes, if ignored and not treated properly, leads to increased levels of blood sugar in the body which in turn leads to peripheral neuropathy where the excessive glucose damages the small blood vessels and nerves resulting in pain in different regions including the armpit area.
  • Cysts tend to develop easily in the underarm area, as this region is moist, dark and warm which makes it an ideal place for formation of sacs of fluid and debris. However, majority of the times, these cysts are harmless and are a method of getting rid of toxins. Nevertheless, cysts can cause severe pain in axilla or axillary pain. For this reason among other, cysts in the axilla should never be ignored and they need immediate medical attention as they could be an early indication of cancer.
  • Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland is overactive. This causes swelling of the glands in the axilla and pain.
  • Glandular Infections are inflammation or infection of the sweat glands which are located in the axilla. There also may be small lump formation and swelling. Some of the causes for this include heat, bad hygiene, and excessive sweating. All these will cause formation of boils, hardened patch of skin with blunt, radiating pain.
  • Peripheral Artery Disease is the obstruction of arteries present close to the heart or brain and which travel through the arms and legs. When there is any interference in the flow of blood near the axilla or shoulder, then patient may experience a sharp pain radiating from underarm to the shoulder.
  • Lymphadenitis is infection of the lymph nodes or glands and can occur as a result of complication of bacterial infections. There is enlargement, inflammation and swelling of the lymph nodes. This occurs due to a reaction to viruses, fungi, or bacteria. Lymphadenitis can also cause axillary pain along with tender, hard and swollen lymph nodes.
  • Shoulder Dislocation occurs when the top most portion of the upper arm's bone has partially or completely moved out from the shoulder socket. This causes pain and discomfort in the axilla as well as the shoulder.
  • Sporotrichosis is a fungal infection, which causes painful rashes and lumps in the axilla. This infection commonly affects the gardeners because of fungi (sporothrix schenckii) present in the rose bushes, moss and soil.

Serious Symptoms Associated with Pain in Axilla

There are some cases when pain in axilla or axillary pain indicates a serious and life-threatening condition, which needs immediate medical attention. Axillary pain can also be due to referred angina or a fatal fracture. Prompt medical attention should be sought if the patient has axillary pain along with the following life-threatening symptoms:

  • Sudden, acute and stabbing pain in the axilla.
  • Uncontrolled and heavy hemorrhage or bleeding.
  • Problems with breathing or respiratory problems, such as wheezing, choking, difficulty in breathing or breathlessness.
  • Paralysis where the patient is not able to move any body part.
  • Chest pain, pressure, palpitations or tightness.
  • Protrusion of bone from the skin.

What is the Treatment for Pain in Axilla?

As there are different causes for pain in axilla or axillary pain, treatment is also different; and depends on the cause and is done accordingly. Given below are some conservative treatment measures which will help in relieving the axillary pain.

  • Cold compresses can be applied to the underarm for relief of pain in axilla. An ice pack or cold cotton washcloth can be applied to the axilla to help alleviate pain and inflammation.
  • Mild and gentle massage to the axilla helps in decreasing the swelling by boosting the blood circulation.
  • If the patient has infection and inflammation, then taking a warm bath to which a tablespoon of baking soda is added helps in reducing the overall pain, itchiness and inflammation.
  • Oily and spicy foods should be avoided, as they increase the production of sweat including the underarm region. This in turn increases the growth of the bacteria and worsens an already existing problem.
  • Practicing good hygiene is important for avoiding as well as relieving swelling, infection and any disease of the axilla. The armpit should be kept clean and dry as much as possible. This will lead to better healing of any painful lumps especially if the lumps have formed due to clogged pores and results in a bacterial infection.

Written, Edited or Reviewed By:


Last Modified On: October 12, 2015

Pain Assist Inc.

Pramod Kerkar
  Note: Information provided is not a substitute for physician, hospital or any form of medical care. Examination and Investigation is necessary for correct diagnosis.

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