Understanding Forearm Pain: What Causes It and How to Find Relief

Medically reviewed by William Morrison, MD on July 12, 2017Published on July 12, 2017

Overview

Your forearm consists of two bones that come together to join at the wrist, called the ulna and radius. Injuries to these bones or to the nerves or muscles on or near them can lead to forearm pain.

Your forearm pain can feel different depending on what’s causing it. In some cases, the pain may be burning and shooting due to nerve pain or damage. With others, the pain may be aching and dull, as can be the case with osteoarthritis. The pain can affect the function of your arm or hand, resulting in tingling and numbness. Other possible symptoms associated with forearm pain include:

  • swelling of your forearm or fingers
  • numbness in your fingers or forearm
  • affected strength, such as weakened grip strength
  • poor range of motion
  • an elbow or wrist joint that pops, clicks, or catches with movement

Sometimes forearm pain isn’t caused by an injury or dysfunction of the forearm itself. Pain in the forearm can be referred pain. This means that the injury is to another place, but the forearm hurts.

Although there are many underlying causes of forearm pain, most can be treated either at home or through medical care.

What causes forearm pain?

Forearm pain can result from a number of causes. These range from degenerative conditions to injuries to underlying medical conditions that damage nerves, bones, or joints:

  • arthritis, which causes the protective cartilage in your joints to wear down, resulting in bone rubbing against bone
  • carpal tunnel syndrome, where the nerve canal in your wrist leading to your fingers starts to narrow, pressing on the nerves and resulting in pain
  • falls, which can lead to injuries such as bone fractures, sprains, or damage to ligaments
  • issues with veins and circulation
  • muscle strain, often from playing a sport such as tennis or golf
  • overuse injuries, such as injury from excess computer use
  • poor posture, such as poor neck posture or your shoulders curving slightly forward, which can compress the nerves in your forearm
  • problems with nerves, which can be the result of medical conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disorders

Learn more: Tips for treating diabetic nerve pain »

You may be able to pinpoint the exact underlying cause of your forearm pain. Other times, you may not be sure how the symptoms occurred. Your doctor can help you identify if there is any underlying damage to the bones, joints, or nerves, or if another condition could be causing your symptoms.

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have a visible bone fracture or hear distinctive popping, clicking, or crunching related to a forearm injury.

What can you do at home to treat forearm pain?

Treatments for forearm pain can vary based on the underlying cause.

At-home treatments

  • Resting your forearm can usually help to reduce the degree of inflammation.
  • Icing the affected area with a cloth-covered ice pack for 10 to 15 minutes at a time may also help to reduce swelling.
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain-relieving medication, such as ibuprofen (Advil) or acetaminophen (Tylenol), can help to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • a splint or bandage that limits mobility while your injury is healing may also help.

Keep reading: First aid for broken bones and fractures »

Stretches

Sometimes doctors may recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to reduce forearm pain. However, you shouldn’t begin any exercise or stretching regimen without a doctor’s approval. Otherwise, you could risk worsening an injury.

You may find you need to ice your forearm after these exercises to reduce any discomfort and swelling that can occur.

Wrist extensor stretch

This stretch helps to reduce the tension associated with forearm pain, particularly if the cause is due to carpal tunnel syndrome.

wrist exterior stretch
  1. Hold your arm out parallel to the ground, extending from the shoulder. Turn your hand so it’s facing downward.
  2. Use the opposite hand to pull your outstretched hand down and toward your body, bending your wrist and feeling a stretch on top of your hand and forearm.
  3. Slightly rotate your arm inward to feel a further stretch.
  4. Hold this position for 20 seconds.
  5. Repeat five times on each side.

Wrist turn

Strengthen your forearm muscles with this exercise, which requires minimal equipment.

elbow bend
  1. Grasp a can of vegetables or soup in your hand, holding it out at shoulder height. Start with your palm facing upward.
  2. Turn your arm and wrist to where your palm faces downward.
  3. Continue alternating your palm facing upward to facing downward.
  4. Perform three sets of 10 repetitions.

If this exercise is too painful for you to perform with your arm extended, you can do this exercise while seated and rest your elbow on your thigh during it instead.

Elbow bend

Although the exercise may seem similar to a bicep curl, this focuses on targeting and stretching the forearm.

elbow bend
  1. Stand up straight with your arms at your sides.
  2. Bend your right arm upward, allowing the inside of your hand to touch your shoulder. If you can’t reach your shoulder, stretch only as close to it as you can.
  3. Hold this position for 15 to 30 seconds.
  4. Lower your hand and repeat the exercise 10 times.
  5. Repeat the exercise with the opposite arm.

Read more: 9 home remedies for carpal tunnel relief »

Injections and surgeries

Sometimes your doctor may recommend an injection of the anti-inflammatory medication cortisone. This can reduce inflammation in the muscles that can cause forearm pain.

Read more: What is a cortisone flare? »

If this doesn’t help your forearm pain, your doctor might suggest surgical methods to reduce pain. Examples of these procedures include:

However, surgeries should always be considered a last treatment if at-home measures and exercises aren’t successful. Your doctor usually won’t recommend them unless your injury is acute or you haven’t responded to 6 to 12 months of nonsurgical treatments.

The takeaway

Many people with forearm pain can successfully treat their symptoms without surgery. Rest your forearm when pain starts to occur and see a doctor if your symptoms get worse instead of improving.

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