Your forearm is the area from your elbow to the wrist and consists of two bones lying side by side:
- Radius laterally (side of the thumb)
- Ulna medially (side of the little finger)
Additionally, numerous blood vessels, nerves, and about 20 muscles help in wrist and forearm and finger movements, hand positions, and grip and fine motor coordination (such as writing, drawing, buttoning and unbuttoning, and typing).
20 possible causes of forearm pain
Naturally, forearm pain in this area can be very disruptive in daily activities and can affect your quality of life. Forearm pain when you pick up something may be due to several reasons, such as muscle soreness, weak muscles, or injuries.
- Sports injuries: Sprains in the muscles that run across the forearm, ligament strain during flicking movements of the wrist while handling a tennis racquet, golf stick, or direct trauma can often cause serious pain. The pain is often aggravated while picking things up.
- Overuse injury: Tennis elbow, golfers’ elbow, forearm splints, and carpal tunnel syndrome are often the terms for different types of overuse injury in the forearm. Every muscle in the body is attached to the bone with a tendon. Due to repetitive motion at the joints during sports, the tendons sustain microtrauma. This can cause inflammation (tenosynovitis) and constant or episodic pain in the forearm.
- Fractures: Road traffic accidents, falls, and direct trauma can cause either or both forearms bone to crack, causing pain. In old age, reduced bone porosity causes fractures even after minor trauma. Hence, every potential fall or trauma should be evaluated.
- Dislocations: An elbow dislocation is often seen in young children due to trauma or when a child is held by the elbows. It is a painful condition with or without obvious deformity and needs urgent medical attention.
- Ulnar nerve palsy: The ulnar nerve runs along the medial part of the forearm and supplies the forearm muscles along with the little finger, half the ring finger, and the skin around it. The nerve is thick, and it passes just beneath the medial epicondyle (inner tuberosity of the elbow). Compression of the ulnar nerve in this area due to poor posture and bone injury can cause pain in the forearm and deformity called claw hand.
- Radial nerve entrapment: The radial nerve travels along with the central and medial parts of the forearm. Bone fractures or severe muscle trauma may cause its compression, leading to radial never entrapment, swelling, and pain.
- Infection: A pustule or an abscess in the forearm area due to an infected sweat gland (often due to excess sweating) or a deeper abscess formation in the muscle or soft tissue is seen in those with compromised immunity (human immunodeficiency virus infection, diabetes mellitus, autoimmune disorders). This can cause throbbing pain in the forearm. Moreover, because the forearm consists of a closed packed space, any swelling needs to be rapidly relieved to avoid a complication called “compartment syndrome.”
- Compartment syndrome: Seen in cases of forearm burns, trauma, untreated fractures, and severe infection in the forearm. In this condition, pressure builds up inside the closed forearm compartment that compromises the blood supply to the tissues in the area and can cause irreversible damage and even gangrene of the forearm and hands.
- Damaged blood vessels: A blocked (or a narrowed) artery due to atherosclerotic plaques, a blood clot, or an aneurysm (ballooning of an artery) of the forearm artery can affect the blood supply and cause severe pain. This is an emergency and requires immediate attention by a surgeon.
- Arthritis: Elbow joint wear and tear due to age (osteoarthritis) or diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, or gout, may cause pain, with or without aggravation on the movement of the wrist.
- Olecranon bursitis: Olecranon process is the bony tip of the elbow. Inflammation of the olecranon bursa (a thin, fluid-filled sac) over this area is called olecranon bursitis and is seen in people who constantly lean on tables with pressure over the elbow tip. There is swelling all over the forearm with limited mobility at the elbow.
- Ergonomic injuries: Poor posture while working at a computer, using chairs without armrests and poor muscle tone due to lack of exercise and stretching can cause vague pain in the forearm.
- Tumors: Rarely, forearm pain may be related to a benign growth, such as a cyst or malignant tumor.
- Drugs: Statins (cholesterol control), zidovudine (anti-human immunodeficiency virus drug), colchicine (for gout), and glucocorticoid can cause myopathy (muscle weakness) and forearm pain.
- Systemic disorders: Nonspecific causes of forearm pain includes diabetes mellitus, thyroid disorders, any of the multiple autoimmune diseases, viral myositis, and flu.
- Motor neuron diseases: Chronic motor neuron diseases, such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and progressive muscular palsy, are rare causes of forearm pain.
- Multiple sclerosis (MS): A systemic disease with complicated etiology, MS results from damage to the myelin layer over the nerves. An acute flare of MS can cause severe, shooting pains in the upper arm.
- Osteomyelitis: Infection in the bones can cause fever, muscle pain, and swelling. It is typically caused by staphylococcus aureus.
- Fibromyalgia: Though patients of fibromyalgia complain of generalized fatigue and body pain, forearm pain is particularly severe in most cases.
- Radiating pain: Pain in the chest, armpit (axilla), shoulder, or neck may sometimes radiate to the elbows, causing forearm pain.
When should I be worried about forearm pain?
Any history of trauma (possible fracture), deformity (fracture or dislocation), inability to move the arm, open wound, tingling, and numbness, muscle paralysis, and a high fever are danger signs. You should not delay a doctor’s visit.
Any profuse bleeding or history of blunt trauma (tires passing over) should not be neglected. In the elderly, every mild to moderate trauma should be taken seriously.
How to manage forearm pain
The cases of forearm pain resulting from overuse or minor trauma and infections can be managed with adequate rest, splinting, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, and ice fomentation. If there is no relief in 24 hours despite these measures, consult your doctor.
Fractures and dislocation may require operative interventions and plasters. Tendon swelling may require intralesional steroid injections. Nerve injuries often recover with rest, decompression, and physiotherapy.
- An ergonomically designed workplace is a solution for many forearm pain cases.
- Stretching and warm-up before sports is a must.
- Physiotherapy plays a key role to avoid the recurrence of such episodes.
- A massage technique called myofascial release often helps in cases of fibromyalgia. This can be learned from a physiotherapist and then practiced at home.
- Exercises, such as squeezing a tennis ball in your hand, holding the position for several seconds, and releasing it many times a day, can help avoid wrist area issues.
- Adding an upper body workout to your exercise schedule can help tone your muscles and prevent muscle aches.
- CDC Warns of Potentially Fatal Bacterial Illness on U.S. Gulf Coast
- Helping Others as Volunteers Helps Kids 'Flourish': Study
- FDA Approves Pfizer's RSV Shot for Older Adults
- What to Do When Tough-to-Treat Lymphoma Strikes During Pregnancy
- Rate of Pregnant U.S. Women Who Have Diabetes Keeps Rising
- More Health News »
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
NASM. The 9 best arm exercises for definition & strength. https://blog.nasm.org/workout-plans/9-best-arm-exercises
Mayo Clinic. Wrist and forearm stretches for the workplace [Video]. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/multimedia/forearm-stretches/vid-20084698
Top Why Do My Forearms Hurt When I Pick Things Up Related Articles
Healthy Aging: Causes of Muscle WeaknessFrom aging to illness, many things can cause your muscles to get weaker. Learn about the causes and what you can do to make it better.
How Do I Make My Forearms Bigger?Your forearms are a part of the upper limb between the elbow and wrist. The forearm has two bones, namely, the radius (present toward the thumb or lateral side of the forearm) and ulna (present toward the little finger or medial side of the forearm).
How Long Does It Take for a Strained Muscle in the Arm to Heal?A muscle strain refers to tearing or stretching of the muscle fibers. Typically, a strained arm muscle heals in a few weeks to a few months, depending on the extent of the injury to the muscle.
How Can You Tell If You Have Nerve Pain or Muscle Pain?If the pain started after an injury and it's a dull ache, it's likely muscle pain. If your pain seemed to come out of nowhere or it's been ongoing, and it feels like your skin is on fire, you're likely experiencing nerve pain.
Is a Muscle Strain the Same as a Muscle Tear?What is the difference between a muscle strain and a muscle tear?
Is My Muscle Pulled or Strained?A pulled muscle is sometimes used as a colloquial term for a strain of moderate severity. A muscle becomes strained when it’s twisted, pulled, or torn in two.
Muscle CrampsMuscle cramps are involuntarily and forcibly contracted muscles that do not relax. Extremely common, any muscles that have voluntary control, including some organs, are subject to cramp. Since there is such variety in the types of muscle cramps that can occur, many causes and preventative medications are known. Stretching is the most common way to stop or prevent most muscle cramps.
Muscle Cramps (Charley Horse) and Muscle SpasmsWhat are the differences between muscle spasms and cramps? Learn about the causes of muscle spasms and cramps (charley horse) in the calf, leg, and more.
Muscle Cramps: Foods That Help and Prevent CrampingOne way to prevent muscle cramps is to get enough of these nutrients: potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium. They’re called electrolytes, and you can find them in these foods.
Muscle Pain (Myofascial Pain Syndrome)Muscle pain (myofascial pain syndrome) is muscle pain in the body's soft tissues due to injury or strain. Symptoms include muscle pain with tender points and fatigue. Treatment usually involves physical therapy, massage therapy, or trigger point injection.
Muscle SpasmsMuscle spasms are involuntary muscle contractions that come on suddenly and are usually quite painful. Dehydration, doing strenuous exercise in a hot environment, prolonged muscle use, and certain diseases of the nervous system may cause muscle spasms. Symptoms and signs of a muscle spasm include an acute onset of pain and a possible bulge seen or felt beneath the skin where the muscle is located. Gently stretching the muscle usually resolves a muscle spasm.
Men's Muscle-BuildingWant bulging biceps and a bigger chest? Our experts demonstrate the right moves to help men build bigger muscles with just two efficient workouts each week.
Sprains and StrainsAn injury to a ligament is called a sprain, and an injury to muscle or tendon is called a strain. Sprains and strains may be caused by repetitive movements or a single stressful incident. Symptoms and signs include pain and swelling. Though treatment depends upon the extent and location of the injury, rest, ice, compression, and elevation are key elements of treatment.
What Is Forearm Pain a Symptom Of?Forearm pain can be a symptom of trauma, muscle weakness, nerve entrapment, arthritis, ergonomic issues, infection, and procedures.