Forearm pain

A painful forearm can make it difficult to do your daily activities and take part in sports. Oftentimes, the cause of your forearm pain is unclear. In this guide, we give you information about the common causes of forearm pain. We also introduce you to some exercises that can help treat your forearm pain and prevent it from returning.

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Juhi Modi Medical Writer
Medically reviewed by 

Forearm anatomy: An overview
What can cause forearm pain?
Common symptoms co-occurring with forearm pain
What can you do to treat forearm pain?
Other treatment options for forearm pain
When to see a doctor for forearm pain?
Treat your pain with forearm exercises

You haven’t done anything unusual, yet there’s a nagging, dull pain in your forearm. Or perhaps your forearm hurts after you spent too much time working at the computer. Maybe you suffered a fall and your forearm has been painful ever since. Does any of this sound familiar? Whatever may be the reason, pain in your forearm can disrupt daily life. It can prevent you from working and doing all the leisure activities you love.

Sometimes, the cause of your forearm pain is known, such as an injury or fall. At other times, the reason for your forearm pain remains a mystery. The treatment for forearm pain depends on the cause, so it’s important to figure out what’s going on. Luckily, in the majority of cases, conservative treatments can help your forearm pain get better. Stretching and strengthening exercises are the best way to rehabilitate the forearm, slowly but surely.

The Injurymap app includes several exercises to aid your recovery from forearm pain. With this informative guide, we will help you understand the different causes of forearm pain. We’ll also tell you how to treat it and prevent it from returning.

Looking for a solution to your forearm pain? Try the Injurymap exercise app now.

Forearm anatomy: An overview

The forearm is integral to many arm and hand movements. Pain in this area can be very disruptive to your daily life. For example, forearm pain can make it difficult for you to grip an object with the hand, work on a computer keyboard, or lift a child. In most cases, you can manage your forearm pain with conservative treatment, including rehab exercises.

The forearm consists of two bones called the radius and the ulna, located between the elbow and the wrist. Also, there are several muscles, tendons, ligaments, soft tissues, and other supportive structures in the forearm. Any of these structures can be injured or become diseased, leading to forearm pain.

What can cause forearm pain?

The causes of forearm pain can be classified as follows:1

  • Injuries, such as a fall or direct blow to the arm, can lead to damage to the muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Injuries can also cause a fracture of the forearm bones.
  • Repetitive strain, such as from working for long hours on a computer. Also, strain from performing repetitive movements in the workplace, for example, assembly-line factory workers.
  • Overuse during sports and physical activities, such as tennis or weightlifting. This can cause strain in the forearm muscles.
  • Nerve entrapment (compression of a nerve in the forearm) can cause a sharp, shooting pain.
  • Arthritis in the elbow or wrist joints can lead to dull pain in the forearm.
  • Medical conditions such as angina can cause referred forearm pain.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the common causes of forearm pain in more detail.

Forearm fracture

The forearm bones can be fractured (broken) due to an injury. This can happen due to a fall, during a car crash, or from a direct blow to the arm. The break in the bones can occur near the elbow, in the middle of the forearm, or at the farthest end near the wrist.2 It takes considerable force to break the forearm bones. Therefore, it is common for both bones in the forearm to break during an injury.

A broken bone in the forearm usually causes immediate pain.3 A forearm fracture requires immediate medical care to be fixed. Surgery is commonly required to stabilize the bones and ensure successful healing. You may need to wear a splint or cast and keep your arm in a sling while the bones heal.3 Once the cast comes off, physical therapy will play an important role in your rehab. Exercises will help you regain forearm strength and function.

Repetitive strain injury

Performing repetitive movements or overusing the forearm can lead to inflammation and damage to the muscles, tendons, and nerves.4 This can cause forearm pain and other symptoms. Excessive use of computers, poor posture, and working in awkward positions are common causes of repetitive strain injury. That’s why it is also called occupational overuse syndrome. Repetitive strain injury can also occur while playing sports like tennis, lifting weights, or doing high-intensity workouts without adequate rest.4

In the early stages of the condition, the pain from a repetitive strain injury is typically present only during certain activities. But, without treatment, your forearm pain can become constant, lasting for several months.4 Treatment usually consists of activity modifications and posture correction. Physical therapy exercises can help strengthen and relax the forearm muscles and relieve your pain and other symptoms.

Ulnar nerve entrapment

The ulnar nerve is a major nerve in the upper limb. It carries signals from the forearm and hand to the brain.5 It is a very long nerve that can become entrapped (compressed) by other structures as it runs down the arm. The entrapment of the ulnar nerve commonly occurs in a narrow passageway on the inside of the elbow. This passage is known as the cubital tunnel. For this reason, ulnar nerve entrapment is also called cubital tunnel syndrome.6

Compression of the ulnar nerve can occur due to repetitive arm movement or leaning on the elbows for long periods.7 Symptoms include pain in the forearm and/or elbow due to irritation of the nerve. Treatment usually consists of adjusting activities to avoid aggravating the nerve. A supportive brace may be recommended.6 Certain exercises can help decrease the pain associated with ulnar nerve entrapment. Exercises help to stretch the nerve and allow it to pass easily through the cubital tunnel.7

Carpal tunnel syndrome

The median nerve is the main nerve of the forearm.8 Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition that occurs when the median nerve gets squeezed when it crosses the carpal tunnel. This tunnel is a narrow passageway in the wrist. Compression of the median nerve usually happens when the carpal tunnel becomes narrowed. This can be due to swelling of the surrounding soft tissues. The most common cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is repetitive activities that involve the hand and wrist, such as typing on a computer keyboard.

The compression of the median nerve in the carpal tunnel creates pressure and irritates the nerve. This leads to symptoms including pain, which is often referred to the forearm. Referred pain is felt at a site other than the origin of the pain. In this case, the pain originates in the carpal tunnel (wrist) and is felt in the forearm. The symptoms are common during the night-time and may wake you from your sleep.8 Fortunately, carpal tunnel syndrome can often be treated without surgery. Besides bracing/splinting, nerve gliding exercises can help. These exercises relieve the symptoms by allowing the median nerve to move more freely in the carpal tunnel.

Forearm tendonitis

Tendons are bands of tissue that attach muscles to bones. When one or more of the tendons in the forearm become inflamed and irritated, the condition is called forearm tendonitis.9 Symptoms include pain when using the forearm, elbow, or wrist. Progressive stretching and strengthening exercises can help the injured tendons to heal.9

Common symptoms co-occurring with forearm pain

The forearm contains many structures, including bones, muscles, tendons, cartilage, ligaments, nerves, and skin. Forearm pain can, therefore, be accompanied by a variety of symptoms.

Symptoms that typically occur with forearm pain.

  • Injuries to the forearm may be associated with bruises, cuts, and lacerations.
  • Fractures of the forearm bones can cause swelling, bruising, numbness, weakness, and inability to rotate the forearm.3
  • Repetitive strain injuries can lead to stiffness, weakness, cramps, tingling and numbness.4
  • Entrapment of the ulnar nerve at the elbow or the median nerve at the wrist can cause symptoms like weakness. This can make you clumsy and cause you to drop things. You may have difficulty buttoning your shirt. Other symptoms include numbness and tingling (pins and needles sensation). There may be loss of muscle mass in severe cases.5,7,8
  • Inflammation of the forearm tendons is often associated with weakness, stiffness, numbness, and inability to bear weight with the arm.9

What can you do to treat forearm pain?

Physical therapy rehab exercises can help you recover from forearm pain. Remember to always start slowly and gradually increase the intensity of your workout. Here are some exercises you can do to strengthen your forearm muscles and make them more flexible.

Exercises for forearm pain

  1. Wrist extension stretch
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    Wrist extension stretch

    • Stand up with one arm out in front of the body.
    • Turn your arm inward so that your palm is facing outwards.
    • Place the other arm in front of the first so your arms are crossed.
    • Merge your fingers and pull the wrist from the first arm back so that your muscles are stretched.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each arm.
  2. Stretch between shoulder blades
    30 sec. x 3 sets

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    Tennis ball

    • Sit on a chair.
    • Merge your fingers and place them under one knee.
    • Relax your shoulders, push your leg towards the floor and feel the stretch between your shoulder blades.
    • Then do the same with the opposite leg.
    • Hold the stretch for 30 seconds and perform 3 repetitions with each leg.
  3. Arm rotations
    10 reps

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    Arm rotations

    • Now raise your arms horizontally to stretch the elbows.
    • Hold your thumbs up.
    • Turn your arms slowly inwards to make your palms point downwards and then outwards so your palms point upwards.
    • Perform 10 repetitions.

Other treatment options for forearm pain

RICE therapy: Rest, ice, compression, and elevation therapy can help reduce pain and inflammation in the affected muscles and tendons of the forearm.

Pain medications: Over-the-counter medications may relieve symptoms of forearm pain. These include oral pain medicines, such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen, which can be taken by mouth. Creams, lotions, and sprays with numbing local anesthetics may also help in the short-term.9

Surgery: Sometimes, when forearm pain is caused by entrapped nerves or injuries such as fractures, surgery may be needed to fix the problem.1

When to see a doctor for forearm pain?

Most people can manage mild to moderate forearm pain at home with physical therapy rehabilitation exercises. If your pain does not go away with home remedies and exercise, you should see a doctor.

Here are some signs and symptoms that need a medical evaluation as soon as possible:6
  • Your forearm is visibly swollen or misshapen or you can see a bone protruding from the skin.
  • Your forearm has turned pale or become blue, black, or purple.
  • Your forearm is extremely sensitive to touch.
  • You have severe pain when you move the arm.
  • You have weakness in one or both forearms, for example, you have trouble lifting objects or playing sports.
  • You have numbness, tingling, or loss of sensation in your forearm.

Treat your pain with forearm exercises

Forearm pain can make it difficult to perform your daily tasks and take part in leisure activities. In rare cases, the pain in your forearm is due to a serious cause. In such cases, it’s important to seek treatment to prevent complications and permanent damage. In the majority of cases, forearm pain responds well to home remedies and rehab exercises.

The Injurymap app demonstrates several exercises to strengthen the forearm and relieve symptoms of pain. You can do these exercises in the convenience of your home with little to no equipment, saving you both time and money. If you have pain in your forearm, start with some gentle stretching exercises. Later, you can begin to build forearm strength and flexibility with more intense workouts. Always increase the frequency and intensity of your workouts gradually. If you experience pain while exercising, it should always be tolerable - don’t push yourself too hard. Doing forearm strengthening exercises regularly will lower your risk of developing many of the conditions that can cause forearm pain in the future.

Sports injuries, overuse, accidents, pinched nerves – these are some of the common causes of forearm pain. But you don’t have to live with a painful forearm. Pain in your forearm shouldn’t prevent you from doing your day-to-day activities, working, and playing sports. By building strength and flexibility, you’ll speed up recovery from forearm pain. You’ll also protect yourself from forearm pain in the future.

Use the Injurymap app to do forearm exercises. The app demonstrates how to do each exercise with the correct technique. Download the Injurymap app today and say goodbye to forearm pain.

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Treat your pain with Injurymap

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