The forearms are composed of the radius and ulna bones, which span the length of the forearm to intersect at the wrist joint. The location means that the forearm is intrinsically involved in a range of everyday arm or hand movements.
As a result of this, injury or discomfort in the forearm can have a wide-ranging impact on mobility and interfere with daily functioning. For example, forearm pain can make it difficult to type on a keyboard or grip an item with the hand.
- The forearm is the area between the wrist and the elbow of the arm.
- In most cases, a person can manage forearm pain with rest and structured activity.
- Some groups of people may be at particularly high risk of forearm pain.
What are the causes?
Forearm pain may be caused by injury, nerve entrapment, or arthritis.
The forearm contains several superficial, immediate, and deep muscles.
Like most body parts, its structures are connected by tendons and ligaments.
Forearm pain can occur for a variety of reasons including:
- Injury: An acute trauma, such as a fall, can cause a fracture in one of the forearm bones or damage to the ligaments and tendons
- Overuse: Some sports, such as tennis and certain types of weightlifting, put a high degree of pressure on muscles in the forearm and can cause them to strain. Excessive use of computers can also cause muscle strain in the forearm, which is known as a repetitive strain injury (RSI). Pains caused by RSI are becoming increasingly common in the workplace given the growth of computer-based labor.
- Nerve entrapment: When nerves become compressed, it can cause pain, numbness, or a tingling feeling in and around the affected region. Nerve entrapment can be caused by a range of different syndromes affecting the forearm. The most common of which is carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Arthritis: Arthritis can occur in the wrist or elbow, causing a dull ache in the forearm.
- An underlying condition: Certain medical conditions, such as angina, can cause pain in the forearm.
The type of pain can vary depending on the cause. For example, nerve entrapment can cause shooting pains whereas arthritis of the elbow can cause a dull ache in the forearm. Overuse injuries, such as RSI, can induce both types of pain.
The type of treatment will depend on the cause of the forearm pain and its severity.
In the case of an injury such as tendon damage, nerve entrapment, or overuse, a person can usually administer treatment at home using the following techniques:
- Rest: Reducing activity involving the forearm will help the injured tendon, ligament, muscle, bone, or nerve to recover. A person should rest periodically rather than remaining inactive for sustained periods. However, a person with a sports-related forearm pain should avoid the sport until the pain has entirely subsided.
- Pain medication: A person can take Ibuprofen or other anti-inflammatory drugs to manage pain.
- Immobilization: In cases whereby movement is very painful, a person may require a splint or sling to restrict movement and minimize pain.
- Hot or cold therapy: The use of an ice pack can help to reduce inflammation and pain. A person may also try heat therapy after the swelling has gone down, which will also ease the pain.
Exercises and stretches
Treatment is often accompanied by exercises and stretches designed to rehabilitate and strengthen the forearm slowly. However, a person should only start doing exercises or stretches after consulting with a doctor to avoid aggravating the injury.
A wrist extension exercise may be recommended to help treat forearm pain.
This exercise helps to stretch the forearm muscles:
- Standing upright, extend the injured arm in front of you with palm parallel to the floor.
- Using the opposite hand, pull the wrist back toward the body.
- Pull the wrist back until feeling a stretch in the forearm but without feeling any pain
- Hold the position for 20 seconds.
Stretching the pronator muscle can help to improve flexibility and reduce pain in the forearm:
- Sitting upright, place the elbow on a table or chair arm.
- Using the opposing hand, gently push the forearm down towards the table or floor.
- When feeling a stretch but without any pain, hold the position for 15 seconds.
This exercise can help to improve blood circulation through the forearm and flexes the wrists:
- Extend arms in front of you with hands at shoulder height.
- Make fists and rotate each wrist clockwise then anticlockwise in a circular motion.
- Perform 10 repetitions in each direction.
Strength building exercises
During later stages of rehabilitation, it can be beneficial to go to a gym and use equipment such as cable machines, light dumbbells, or exercise bands. Strength building exercises, such as wrist curls or reverse curls, can help to build forearm strength, helping to prevent forearm pain from reoccurring.
Surgery or injections
Exercise is not always sufficient, and some people may require anti-inflammatory medications to reduce the pain. Sometimes, where the pain is caused by trapped nerves or other injuries, surgery may be required.
A person can take basic precautions to help prevent forearm pain from occurring, such as:
- Avoiding activities that put excessive strain on the forearm, such as tennis or certain types of weightlifting.
- Taking regular breaks from extended periods of computer use and using an ergonomic keyboard at work.
- Strengthening the forearm and increasing grip strength through resistance training.
Forearm pain can be disruptive to daily functioning, but most people can manage it through a careful balance of rest and structured activity. It is also relatively easy to prevent forearm pain from occurring by making some simple adaptations, such as using an ergonomic keyboard at work and taking regular breaks from typing.
However, persistent cases of forearm pain may indicate arthritis or an underlying condition that requires further medical attention.