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Brachioradial pruritus (itchy arms) is a localized intense itching on the outer aspect of the upper arm, elbow, and forearm. This is commonly seen in fair-skinned individuals who are often exposed to sun. The itching may gradually be more widespread and intense but may still look normal without any rash. The itching may be so intense that may result in bleeding due to scratching.

Although there are several other conditions that are associated with itchy arms, most of them are associated with rash on the arms and probably on other areas of the body too. Most common cause of severe itching with rash is atopic dermatitis, which is characterized by severe itching, redness, scaling and lichenification of the skin. Other common conditions include dry skin, neurodermatitis, allergic contact dermatitis, eczema, psoriasis etc.

Brachioradial prurituis is commonly seen in middle aged individual, however, it may start during adulthood and increase its intensity as individual in exposed to chronic sun. The most common area of itchy arm is the outer aspect of forearm but can be experienced on elbow, upper arms, neck and back. Itching can be intense associated with prickling, burning or stinging sensation. The involve area may be hypersensitive to touch.

Unlike other parts, arms can be easily access in anytime anywhere either private or public so patients will be habitual due to frequent itching. This chronic itching may result in secondary skin changes like scarring and hypo or hyper-pigmentations.

Itchy arms often involve one arm that is frequently exposed to sun but can be experienced on both arms too. In case of bilateral itching it may be suggestive of spinal tumour, so prompt investigation may be needed.

itchy arms
Itchy arms no rash
What Causes Brachioradial Prutitus?

It has been suggested that brachioradial pruritus is cause by nerve damage due to cervical spine abnormalities. Prolonged long-term exposure to sun has also been suggested in the etiology of brachioradial pruritus. Minor injuries and abnormalities of cervical spine like calcium deposit, disc prolapse or bulging, and degenerative changes of spine and skin that occurs due to normal aging or disease and excessive sun exposure can also cause the problem.

Treatment for Brachioradial Pruritus

There is no cure for such itchy arms but ice pack and cooling lotions may be beneficial. Beside symptomatic relief, it is very important to find out the case and treat any underlying systemic cause especially spinal origin. Other therapy like topical capsaicin cream, anesthetic creams, anticonvulsant medications (gabapentine) and antidepressants have also been used with success. Avoiding chronic sun exposure may also help relief the symptoms.

42 Comments

  1. Trackback: Itchy Skin no Rash:Pruritus Sine Materia | DermaTalk
  2. Judy
    December 23, 2013 at 4:14 am

    Brachio-radial pruritis, in my particular situation, is caused by Phase III arthritis in C-5, C-6, and C-7.
    In my opinion, this condition has little to nothihg to do with sun exposure-if so, it would occur over my
    entire body. Impingment of the nerves that ennervate these three dermatomes cause intense, episodic, unpredictable, maddening itching/burning sensationsof being stuck with millions of needles. absolutely insane. Have your doctor prescribe some Gabapentin/Ketoprofen cream (do not take Gabapentin orally). It helps tremendously, along with icing the affected areas. I currently see an upper C-spine chiropractor, and hopefully I will get some relief soon. Good luck to you

  3. Kurt
    October 16, 2014 at 1:01 pm

    This post led me to some relief! I have had this itchy arm problem for years, but this is the first time I have been able to put a name to it. For me, it has been sporadic; it seems to come and go with no discernible pattern. I thought at first that it was an allergic reaction, so I tried changing things like my laundry detergent. Only once did I have a doctor–a dermatologist–suggest that it might be nerve related, but that did not seem to help much. I have tried various topical treatments such as Benadryl and Calamine lotion with little effect.

    This was the first time I heard about trying topical capsaicin cream. After reading the post, I went out and found some cream with 1% capsaicin and tried it out. It worked! However; let me give a few tips to anyone who wants to try this as well so you don’t make my mistakes:

    Tip # 1: READ THE INSTRUCTIONS FIRST!

    Tip # 2: Only use capsaicin if there is a nearby sink to wash your hands. I ran out to the nearest CVS and picked up the capsaicin cream and then popped the tube open in my car and applied a liberal amount to each arm. Only afterward did I notice that the instructions on the tube said to “wash hands thoroughly after application.” Since I was in my car, running errands, I did not have access to a place to wash my hands right away. Big mistake! Capsaicin–as I learned later–is a component that is found in chili peppers. It is a skin irritant. You don’t want it on your hands because your hands will inevitably come in contact with your eyes, nose or mouth. Ouch! In my case, the cream got under my wedding ring and started burning like heck!

    Tip # 3: Be prepared for some discomfort. As mentioned above, capsaicin is a skin irritant. It seems counter-intuitive, but that is why it works to relive the itching. The area where you put the capsaicin cream is going to feel hot! If you go out in the sun, the effect is magnified. Use it sparingly at first to gauge your tolerance for it. The burning sensation lessens (at least for me) after a couple of days use. In my case, I applied it once a day and on the second day noticed a marked reduction in the itching.

    Tip # 4: For goodness sake; if it is on your forearm, don’t wipe sweat out of your eyes with your forearm!

  4. Sue
    December 16, 2014 at 12:13 pm

    Many thanks for this.
    I took it to show my gp who had never heard if it before. The picture of the woman trying not to scratch says it all.
    I now have amitriptyline and capsaicin cream and am hoping for some relief

  5. Beth
    October 1, 2015 at 1:59 pm

    After weeks of itching I saw this online, called my Orthopeadic back Dr. For an spot. He had never heard of this. Neck ex Rays showed severe arthritis and compression of discs in C5,6,7. He recommended dry needling(similar to acupuncture) at the PT clinic. Tah-Dah! NO MORE ITCHING. It’s been 2 weeks. PS ice packs were the only thing that worked instantly prior to needling. Creams, lotions, medications do NOTHING so don’t waste your $

  6. peggie
    October 5, 2015 at 12:37 am

    I have had this on and off for years (since my early 40s and I am 64 now)and out of desperation put an ice pack on it and it helped . seeing a dermatologist when it first occured was a waste of time as were the hydrocortisone , mentholatum and calimine creams. It is the arm that sticks out the window when I drive so maybe it is sun related, but I will definately talk to the dr. next time I go in,thanks so much for giving this a name

  7. Eric
    November 18, 2015 at 3:38 am

    I have very similar symptoms to this. It only seems to happen in late fall and winter though. Is this consistent with any particular cause?

  8. HOLLY
    June 6, 2016 at 1:11 am

    since my dr prescribed GABAPENTIN 100 MG CAP… I HAVENT HAD ANY OF MYT USUALLY HORRIFIC ITCHING… IT A GOD SEND…

    TELL YOU DR TO GIVE YOYU GABAPETIN 100 MG CAPS

  9. Carl C. Hybels
    July 19, 2016 at 3:15 am

    Thanks! I think this is what I have. Itchyleft forearm, no rash –unless I go at it too much. Sarna anti-itch lotion helps a lot as does shaving my forearm so no ‘hair triggers’ for itch.
    The link to disc problem was startling and confirming! I have just started PT for a disc problem bulging likely caused by repeated back strain in moving house, manifests as severe nerve pain in hip-back of butt but docs say is really a back problem. The hurt disc sends pain out along its nerves.
    Wouldn’t have thought a skin problem had any connection! But there you go. Thanks. I will share with my PT person.

  10. Rose
    August 28, 2016 at 12:45 pm

    Has anyone had relief with chiropractic manipulation?

  11. Dawn
    September 7, 2016 at 8:16 pm

    I also have these same symptoms! Which I only get in early fall through early winter. The itch keeps me awake at night (or wakes me up) and drives me absolutely crazy at times! I’ve tried all the lotions and creams but never heard of capsaicin cream. I have looked for it but cannot find. Can you only get it with a perscription from your doctor?

  12. Denise
    October 10, 2016 at 4:45 pm

    It’s nice to know I am not the only one. My Husband thought I was just crazy.. The itching is maddening!!! I have also tried the capsaicin cream, it seemed to just aggravate the itching more. Ice is the ONLY relief!! Headed to the Ortho. I know I have back issues and maybe that is the cause.

  13. Karrie
    November 2, 2016 at 2:17 am

    I just started having the insane itching of my upper left arm. Did a round of prednisone, capsaicin cream, benadryl, oral Atarax, every other OTC topical cream, lotion, and spray. Running extremely hot water over my arm helps as well as placing an ice pack directly on my skin. I’ve had a few chiropractic adjustments, saw a dermatologist and had a skin biopsy done, and now I have an appointment with a neurologist this week. I’m now getting scars on my arm from scratching so much. I’m going to see about the gabapentin!

  14. Jesse
    June 9, 2017 at 4:08 am

    Extreme problem for years – but it’s a food allergy. The culprit for me is xanthan gum. Check it out – cheap ice cream, many sauces, ie, teriyaki, some barbecue, a latte at Starbucks with Coconut milk, many sausages. Xanthan gum is used as a thickner and, thanks to a suggestion from my doctor as this being a possible cause, as I watched ingredients, within 3 to 5 hours of eating anything with xanthan gum, I was in trouble. Track it for yourself. I think there may be another ingredient yet that is causing this but start with this one once! Feel free to repost and pass along once you test and prove it.

  15. Kelly
    June 15, 2017 at 4:04 am

    The itching on upper arm was so intense…..and yes, I’ve been in the sun a lot for the last few days (with sunscreen). Anyway, always had a “hotspot” on left arm. Itching so bad that I tried Everything, even anti-itch med., and oregano oil.
    Desperate, I finally tried Miconazole – the cream for yeast infections. Thanking God right now that it worked! It was the worst Ever.

  16. Patricia Segura
    June 26, 2017 at 6:52 pm

    My itching is upper arms, nothing below elbows. I did sustain a T6 compression fracture. Will try the cream, or maybe rub a jalapeno on them.

  17. Beverly Como
    October 22, 2017 at 6:17 pm

    I have had this fir several years and never thought of it being linked to cervical issues, but wow does that make sense. I’ve had cervical protheses placed in 3, ya 3, locationsto include C5-6…but it is likely I am pinching the mobi-c disc and the nerves ate hindeted, hence the itch. Better the itch than the pain, .. some consolationi guess

  18. Sandra Cherry
    October 25, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    I have had this itching arms condition for several years now. I also have had neck and back issues most of my life. I see a chiropractor regularly, but only recently have found this connection related to the itching. I scratch so much that hair has begun to grow on my arms. Does anyone else have this problem. I am wondering if anyone has had laser hair removal on their arms? Is it a good idea or will it only make the problem worse? I find all the hair on my arms annoying!

  19. Patty
    December 19, 2017 at 1:34 pm

    I have one word for all of you sufferers to get rid of the itching BIOFREEZE
    I tried applying the gel wherever and when ever my arms began to itch and the gel sooths and cools the itch. Just keep applying every time.
    I suffered for 15 years off and on. It wasn’t a pinched nerve in my neck as I did see a chiropractor.
    It could be food and seasonal allergies but even the allergy meds. I took from an allergist did not work. Keep applying Biofreeze. It has helped me and I hope it can help you

  20. laura
    September 4, 2018 at 5:58 am

    Holy cow!!! it’s almost 1:00am, this itching is going to drive me crazy!!!! I didn’t think I would find an answer… but I did. I have arthritis in my lower back, fibromyalgia, and I have been in the sun, so not sure what is causing this crazy itching. I took Gabapentin 100 by mouth for over a month for nerve pain and I was itching then, just put fast freeze on, kinda works. I have tried a hot washcloth followed by an ice cube none of that worked. So far the Fast freeze is keeping it from itching so bad , maybe I’ll try to get some sleep!…. Thank you all for sharing what works for you.

  21. Kay Rovik
    October 13, 2018 at 3:53 pm

    I have itched since 1988, I begged a new Dr in 2000, she prescribed hydroxzine, does this work. Of course drs along the way kept cutting back the dose. Also lyrica for right arm. My whole back is compression fracturs, narrowing of vertebrae. I have also been prescribed triamcinolone cream, works & finally a dr suggested anti pain cream, which is aspercreme, numbs the area. Anti itch makes it 100 times worse. Thank you, finally a name!

  22. Cinfy
    December 23, 2018 at 1:39 am

    Ditto….my X-rays show c5-c6 bulging and degenerate changes.
    Past year…it hi guys line crazy..it’s horrible. Can’t sleep, digging myself raw to the point of bleeding. Back of neck is also an area.
    Menthol cream us the only thing that helps but not by much.
    Was told to go to neurologist. My GP had never heard of it.
    I say it’s nerve related without a doubt.
    Can surgery help this?

  23. M. G. Mateuda
    February 12, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Equate (Walmart) has a product called Bacitracin Zinc Ointment. Applied once and no itching for over 24 hours. Applied second time and no itching for over 48 hours and still counting hours. This has been the only thing to help. Hope it works for you if you try it. Not expensive either. Good luck to those who have not found a solution whether temporary or permanent.

  24. Elizabeth
    October 2, 2019 at 1:37 pm

    Applying coconut oil with 2-3 drops frankensense

  25. Mary Carson
    October 20, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    What type of doctor would you recommend? I saw my dermatologist a few years ago when it first started. Sarnac used to work but now not as much. Bio freeze helps most, but doesn’t last. Aspercreme helped a bit at first this year but also doesn’t last. This year it’s worse. Usually I only have it in late August through early fall which seems odd if it was spinal or sun related. But it seems to be lingering and worse this year. I’m not aware of any spine issues but suppose that there could be. I do run a lot so all the pounding may have impacted my spine. I’ve not noticed a direct correlation to the sun. I don’t have it in summer when at the beach or running. Any advice on type of doctors to see would be appreciated.

  26. Michaele Moore
    November 7, 2019 at 5:58 am

    I have had this condition for twenty years give or take. I have tried everything from prescriptions, to OTC, to holistic. My Daughter just got some CBD Oil and suggested I try it topically. Almost instantly the itching was gone! Lasted for hours! I am hooked! It doesn’t matter what kind.

  27. B
    November 16, 2019 at 1:02 am

    Try Doterra peppermint oil. Works great.

  28. ChoiNathan
    November 21, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    I’ve always loved dancing but one day I was forced not to. I itch everytime I move my arms a lot. I think it may be related with the nerves in my arms. Will check with doctor soon God bless.

  29. Ana Rivera
    January 9, 2020 at 7:19 pm

    CBD oil-based creams are the only thing that has given me some relief! Obviously look for the THC-free kind of product, but this one works. I don’t know how or why….I tried the generic cream with a menthol, lavender blend scent and it is giving me relief, finally. Now i am seeing the skin heal. I truly hope this experience helps someone out there…this was the most uncomfortable, relentless condition I could imagine, negatively impacting my life.

  30. Ted B.
    February 24, 2020 at 5:06 am

    Things that have worked for me:

    1.) topical LANACANE anesthetic cream. This is actually 20% benzocaine. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY. This is an anesthetic – like novacaine. You can oly use it for a few days at a time. I order mine on amazon because it is getting very hard to find in pharmacies 9it is an OTC medication, reasonably priced)

    2.) DOXEPIN oral medication (this is a generic of SINEQUAN). This is a POWERFUL tri-cyclic antideprressant that is often prescribed as an off-label medication for relief from severe chronic itching because of it’s well known POWERFUL side effect of numbing the skin. it is often prescribed in 25mg doses but for ME I need it to be 125mg-150mg to be effective. IT WILL MAKE YOU EXTREMELY SLEEPY AND GOOD FOR NOTHING as far as being a productive human being until your body adjusts to taking this medication regularly (weeks!). One the acute symptoms have disappeared you and your physician can experiment with lower doses.
    2b.) DOXEPIN TOPICAL CREAM. I believe that this would probably work very well and have fewer / less side effects than doxepin oral, but the cream is EXTREMELY EXPENSIVE ($300+ tube) and therefore I have never been able to try it and see.

    3.) regular chiropractic adjustments and invesrion therapy (see thos TEETER inversion commercials on TV?) are helpful as a long term treatment.

    We so far ASSUME this is brachioradial pruritis – but it is SO HARD to nail down the exact cause for sure.
    Whatever is causing this for you, I ASSURE YOU that the things I mentioned WILL WORK.

    This is the absolute worst nightmare of my life. I life in anxiety and fear that a bout of this will flare up. My first attack came in 2010 – it is now 202 and i am now having my 3rd major attack in 10 years. This one has lasted so far from october 2019 to now, mid Feb 2020.

  31. Glen T.
    July 14, 2020 at 5:50 pm

    I am so grateful for a name finally of what has been tormenting me all these years. Thank you all.

  32. Eric B Claman
    July 23, 2020 at 7:49 pm

    I have had the intense itching for the past 8 years, only in the summer’s heat. I even tried sand paper. I have had two spinal fusions and it only started after the second. My Dr. prescribed Lyrica and it works wonders. Unfortunately it is a controlled drug and some Dr.’s might be apprehensive to prescribe it.

    If you can get Lyrica, please do immediately. IT WILL TAKE AWAY THE ITCH, 100%.

  33. Holly
    September 2, 2020 at 10:46 pm

    I’m suffering from this horrible affliction again this summer. First had symptoms in late summer or early fall of 2019. I read these posts or some like it and diagnosed myself with brachioradial pruritis. I used otc anti itch creams without relief and decided to try some topical analgesics because it was mentioned online by so many sufferers as providing relief. Aspercreme worked well at first, but became less effective over time. I tried biofreeze and ice packs both of which provided relief. After about 2 months, this agonizing, debilitating, sleep disrupting itch disappeared just as quickly as it had appeared. I didn’t give it another thought…until it returned with a vengeance in early August 2020. The symptoms were mild at onset and the old analgesic creams helped take the edge off initially. Through the first month of anguish the pain and itch was affecting only my left forearm but, as of September 1rst, has spread to the right forearm as well. Now Biofreeze provides slight, temporary relief and the other analgesic creams don’t touch it. Ice packs provide the best relief but I have an active life- working as an RN and caring for three very busy young children, so keeping an ice pack on one or both forearms all day is not feasible.
    I tend to avoid doctors and was not seen by my PCP for this when it first occurred last year. I am cynical but as a,nurse I know how difficult it is to get a good diagnosis and treatment for unusual ailments. I didn’t want to mess with months of visits to various specialists batteries of tests and experimental treatments that did nothing. I’m going to schedule an appointment today with my doctor and intend to go in with the extensive collection of notes I’ve taken throughout my research of this condition and treatments. I don’t have much faith that she will listen (in my experience doctors hate beg told how to do their jobs) and worry that I’ll come away with a diagnosis of eczema and a prescription for some ointment. Ugh. Fingers crossed that it doesn’t go that way and I come away feeling pleasantly surprised and hopeful.

  34. Alzx
    October 31, 2020 at 9:23 am

    OMG, life saver. ( thank you all)

    This started after my c5/C6 acdf (removal of disks) I have had bad back and spine problems for years and I had these itchy forearms. ( it creeps up on you)
    It was intermittent at first but gradually got more intense until I’d scratched my skin of and cause many scars.
    I had purple patches and dry skin and intense itching ( like hot pokers, lots of hot pokers inserted into the skin)
    OMG…..Im on pregabaline. It has just made sense with the lidocaine patches. It keeps lessening when I use the patches. I never drew the connection with the patch for my back and spine to a skin problem. Then last night I found this site and the capsicum cream. Good god, I put the cream on my arms and a few hours later the slight burn started to take the attention away from the intense itch, until I woke up this morning and the heat is 70% taken over and dulled the itch. OMG I’m so happy, my arms have scars on them from scratching, I’m forever itching and I’m so happy. Thank you, thank you everybody for taking the time to write this information. You have stopped a sane man going crazy from itching.

  35. Martha
    November 1, 2020 at 11:55 pm

    Many thanks to everyone who had commented!
    I had surgery to remove a spinal stimulator ( previous injury) in 2018. Two months later I began experiencing severe itching, stinging, pain on my upper arms; it resolved in about three months. A year layer I had a new spinal stimulator implanted and the severe itching, burning, and stinging returned with a vengeance! Evenings are the worst. It has been so bad that I now have scars from scratching so much. My dermatologist prescribed Prednisone as well as UVB Light Therapy’ three times each week.- this promoted healing and did decrease the itching some. Now, three weeks later, the stinging, itching, and burning are back! Oh my…
    Thanks to this website I think I now have a name for my ailment. Thanks to your comments I also now have hope ? which I really need as well a whole host of ideas that may bring me relief.
    I plan on calling a neurologist tomorrow as well.
    Again- thank you!!!

  36. Jonna Lowe
    December 13, 2021 at 2:52 am

    I thought I had gotten bitten by a spider in my sleep. Itching and burning just below and above my elbow. I woke the next morning expecting to see a red and swollen arm. Nothing……Then again the same problem 2 nights in a row. What I don’t understand it why it happens at night? I too have had back surgery and have put off the surgery for the neck rupture. Also have trigger finger, and had carpal tunnel surgery. All these are on my right hand and arm.

  37. Elias
    February 17, 2022 at 11:38 pm

    I know this might sound too simple to be believed as the problem, but I believe most of this issue comes from a food allergy. Thank you Jesse for your comment on June 9th of 2017. You mentioned your allergy was xanthan gum. I immediately eliminated ALL xanthan gum out of my diet and WALLAH! The extrememe itching on my elbows was all gone within 2 days!! The intense itching had been so bad that I no longer was able to get enough sleep, and my elbows were already bleeding from getting scratched too much, even though I had tried hard to not scratch too hard. I am 58 years old, and my elbows had been itching for a few months. When the intense itching became intolerable I did a search on the internet, found this site, (Thank you!) and found Jesse’s comment, acted on that info, and sure enough, xanthan gum was the problem. So simple to completely fix my itching elbows!!! Thanks again Jesse!

  38. Art
    May 17, 2022 at 11:43 pm

    I am 69 and this is about my third “season” of night after night intense itching from my shoulder to my elbow which usually starts on one side in the beginning of each cycle then the other within a week or two and like other comments above all doctors want to do is give you is some innefective lotions/drugs which do not work and caspian creams did not help me and I hate to resort to ice especially in the middle of my sleep so I have discovered a non ointment/drug relief system that all other sufferers should definitly try as I get as much as 75% reduction of itch. My tecnique is to use 3M Medipore Soft Cloth Surgical Tape 3″ wide which I buy on amazon and apply to every area of itching. Do this as soon as the first sign of itchining because if you wait till the itch gets strong to apply it then it is not as effective but stil helps. It is soft and very comfortable and sometimes I leave it on for 24 hours if necessary but it is best to change after that. In addition I wear a long sleeved snug fitting cotton tee shirt type garment which stays against my skin as opposed to a loose fitting long sleve garment. I hope this will help you all as much as it helps me. Aloha, Art

  39. Tooma Mac
    September 8, 2022 at 9:51 am

    Both main causes make sense to me, and I am now checking food ingredients for Xanthan Gum; found it in one pack of sliced cheese so far.

    Here is an effective and helpful treatment for the itching I discovered by trial, not a cure, a method of obtaining relief which works every time for me. Simply wet your arms with cold water and leave it on your skin to air dry. Repeat as needed. Once usually gives me 1 to 3 hours of non-itching, non-scratching relief.

  40. Bill Mullins
    September 27, 2022 at 10:28 pm

    I started having itchy inner forearms about 4 days ago. I Googled “itchy forearms'” and immediately came to this site and learned what my problem is. So far, I have only tried cortisone ointment with absolutely no relief. I think I will try CBD oil. I am about an hour’s drive from Oregon where I can get it. I may check out some of the other suggestions. It sounds like I may be in this for a long haul. I’m glad I found this site so early in the onset of my symptoms. I have severe spondylosis at C6/C7, which I have had for over 15 years, so I am surprised that the itching is just now starting. Probably from further deterioration, Thanks to all for sharing your stories!

  41. Greg Williams
    October 22, 2022 at 3:32 pm

    The itching has been on and off for a couple decades. The only relief I’ve found is aloe vera with lidocaine. Slather it on.

  42. Joni
    November 6, 2022 at 8:30 pm

    I think it’s glyphosate poisoning. We all get exposed to this nasty poison because it’s a weed killer used by farmers. I detoxed using a sauna and it went away after years of crazy making itching fall – winter.

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