Forearm tendonitis is inflammation of the tendons of the forearm. The forearm is the part of your arm between the wrist and the elbow.
Tendons are soft bands of connective tissue that attach muscles to bones and allow joints to flex and extend. When tendons are irritated or injured, they become inflamed. That causes tendonitis.
The most common symptom of forearm tendonitis is inflammation, or pain, redness, and swelling in the forearm. Forearm tendonitis may cause symptoms in or around your elbow, wrist, and hand.
Additional symptoms of tendonitis include:
- weakness or loss of grip
- throbbing or pulsing
- stiffness, often worse after sleeping
- severe pain when attempting to use the wrist, elbow, or forearm
- inability to bear weight on the forearm, wrist, or elbow
- numbness in the wrist, hands, fingers, or elbow
- a lump on the forearm
- a grating feeling when moving the tendon
Your doctor will ask questions about your symptoms, such as when they started, and what activities improve or worsen your symptoms. They will also review your medical history, and examine the forearm and surrounding joints.
If your doctor suspects tendonitis, they will use diagnostic imaging tests to confirm the diagnosis. Tests may include X-ray or MRI.
Treating tendonitis at home generally involves:
- immediate and continual use of RICE therapies
- use of over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory and pain medications
- progressive stretching and strengthening exercises
RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. The RICE therapies can be used to slow blood flow to the site of the injury. That helps reduce inflammation and promote recovery.
- Rest. The forearm is involved in many different motions and is used in most activities and sports in some way. It can be tricky to stop using the forearm tendons entirely, and easy to mistakenly use them. Braces, splints, and wraps that are designed to restrict the movement of the full forearm, elbow, or wrist may help rest the area.
- Ice. Gently apply an ice pack wrapped in a cloth or towel to the forearm for 10 minutes, followed by a 20-minute break, several times throughout the day. Icing is especially effective after the forearm has been heavily used or inactive, like before bed and first thing in the morning.
- Compression. Many different sleeves and wraps are designed to compress either the full forearm or segments of it. Depending on the severity of symptoms, compression devices can either be worn for a few hours or left on for several days to weeks, except to bathe or sleep.
- Elevation. Keep the forearm raised at a level above the heart to reduce the blood flow to it. Some people find it helpful to rest the forearm on a pillow while sitting or sleeping, or to use a sling while walking and standing.
Several OTC medications may help relieve symptoms, including:
- OTC anti-inflammatory and pain medications, like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen(Tylenol), and naproxen sodium (Aleve)
- OTC anesthetic creams, sprays, or lotions with numbing chemicals like lidocaine and benzocaine
- naturopathic anesthetic creams, tonics, or sprays with plant-based pain killers or numbing agents like, capsaicin, peppermint, menthol, or wintergreen
Stretches and exercise
Several stretches can help slowly stretch and strengthen inflamed or injured tendons.
Downward wrist stretch:
- Extend the arm outward with the palm and fingers facing down.
- If step 1 does not cause too much pain, use the opposite hand to slowly, gently pull the hand backward or toward the forearm.
- Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.
- In a seated position, hold 1- to 3-pound weights with the forearms resting on your thighs.
- Slowly flex or bend the forearm at the elbow, drawing the hands toward the body as far as is comfortable.
- Return your hands to a resting position on the thighs.
- Repeat exercise three times in sets of 10–12 reps
Massage balls or foam roller:
- Using whatever pressure level feels comfortable, slowly roll the tissues of the forearm over the ball or foam roller.
- If you hit a particularly painful or tender spot, stop and slowly apply additional pressure to the spot, holding for 15–30 seconds.
- Reduce pressure and continue rolling the forearm from the palms all the way up to the bicep.
Rubber bands stretch:
- Loop a small rubber band or resistance band between the thumb and forefinger so that it’s fairly tight.
- Slowly extend the thumb and forefinger outward, away from each other so that you form a V-shape with the finger and thumb.
- Slowly return the thumb and forefinger to their initial position.
- Repeat 10–12 times, three times in a row
Your doctor may prescribe physical therapy or pain management medications for severe, long-term, or disabling cases of forearm tendonitis.
Other treatments your doctor may recommend include:
- massage therapy
- prescription strength anti-inflammatory and pain medications
- corticosteroid injections
- acupuncture, acupressure, or electrostimulation therapy
- rolling and myofascial release techniques
- extracorporeal shock wave therapy
You may need surgery to repair the injury if you have a significant tear or tissue damage. Surgery may also be used for severe or long-term tendonitis that doesn’t respond to other therapy.
For minor cases of tendonitis, you may need to rest your arm for a few days. Inflammation should go away after two to three weeks of basic care.
Severe or long-term cases of tendonitis often require complete rest of the forearm for a few days. You’ll also need to avoid activities that irritate the tendon for several weeks or months.
If you need tendonitis surgery, you’ll likely need to rest the arm for several months following surgery. You’ll also work with a physical therapist or occupational therapist to learn rehabilitative exercises.
Anything that activates the tendons can worsen tendonitis pain. Certain motions are more likely to cause or increase your symptoms.
Movements and foods to avoid when recovering from forearm tendonitis include:
- holding a book or tablet
Certain foods and habits can also increase inflammation. Inflammation-causing foods include:
- refined carbohydrates like white bread or pasta
- processed meats
- soft drinks
- fried foods
- red meat
- processed snack foods like chips, candy, and chocolate
Following a well-balanced, nutritious diet may improve your recovery.
Follow the safety precautions for specific activities, work, or sports to prevent forearm tendonitis from accidental injury.
The best way to prevent tendonitis caused by repetitive or intense overuse is to recognize the signs of the condition early and treat them. Avoid actions that irritate or use the forearm tendons if you begin to notice symptoms of this condition. That can keep the condition from getting worse. Practicing the stretches recommended during forearm tendonitis recovery may also reduce the likelihood of severe or long-term inflammation.
Forearm tendonitis is a common condition that often resolves following a few weeks of rest and basic care. Severe or long-term cases of tendonitis can be disabling and take months of medical treatment and therapy to fully recover from.
The best way to treat forearm tendonitis is:
- OTC anti-inflammatory medications
- stretching and strengthening exercises
Surgery may be needed if other methods to treat the condition fail, or if you have significant damage to the tendon.