Forearm pain does not get as much interest as its cousin, wrist pain. Despite an unfortunate lack of attention—discomfort, soreness, or pain in the area between your elbow and wrist remains a problem many experience in their lifetime.
Since the forearm is used in almost every form of regular activity, ranging from crocheting and kitting to using a keyboard and mouse, forearm pain can be a very real disruption to daily life.
Figuring out how to recognize the signs and causes of forearm pain is a key part of being able to treat it either at home or with the aid of your doctor. I’ll get into forearm pain treatment options in a moment, but first let’s look into what causes forearm pain.
What Causes Forearm Pain?
The forearm consists of two bones—the radius and the ulna—along with muscle, nerves, ligaments, tendons, and blood vessels. If you are experiencing forearm pain, something has likely happened to at least one of these features.
- Injury: Unsurprisingly when dealing with one of the body’s more active limbs, injury is a common cause of forearm pain. Generally speaking, injuries to the forearm fall into one of the following categories:
- Blows: A sudden strike to the ulna or radius, usually the result of a fall or collision.
- Twisting: A muscle or joint injury when the arm is forced beyond its normal range of movement.
- Sharp force: Similar to a blow but more targeted, such as a defensive wound.
Depending on which type of injury you experienced, the forearm pain could be from a fractured or broken bone, a torn muscle, or something similar.
- Overuse: Strain on the tendons and ligaments of the forearm can lead to inflammation and pain. Since the forearm houses the longest tendons in the body (they extend all the way into the finger), they are the most vulnerable to becoming inflamed. Due to how tendons are arranged in the body, inflammation-related pain is not always confined to the forearm itself and could be felt along the elbow or upper arm as well as past the wrist.
- Arthritis: As with most forms of limb pain, arthritis is a possible cause. The ends of your bones are covered in cartilage to allow them to bend and move easily. With arthritis, the cartilage weakens and erodes away, causing pain and stiffness as the bones come into direct contact.
- Nerve disorder: Nerves are tricky since they can cause pain in seemingly unrelated parts of the body. A pinched nerve along the spine, for instance, can manifest as forearm pain without any injury or illness. More local causes can include carpal tunnel syndrome, where the median nerve in the wrist becomes compressed and can cause pain along the wrist, hands, and forearm. Another, but less common possibility, is “ulnar tunnel syndrome”. This is much like carpal tunnel except it involves the ulnar nerve near the elbow.
- Compromised blood vessels: Injury or infection can sometimes cause blood vessels to swell and result in soreness and pain. This can also happen if something has caused a disruption of the blood flow like narrowing of the brachial artery or constriction (like if a tourniquet is on too long or if you lie on your forearm). An obstruction, such as from a blood clot, can also fall into this category.
Symptoms Associated With Forearm Pain
Pain can come in many different forms—and offer insight into possible causes:
- A persistent dull ache or throb is more likely to originate in the muscle.
- A “pulsing” throb is likely tied to the blood vessels, especially if the area is showing redness.
- Tenderness (pain that worsens when touching the area) is likely to be due to injury, especially if accompanied by swelling.
- Pain in response to movement of the forearm, especially specific forms of movement, are more likely to be joint, tendon, or bone related.joints, muscle, tendons, pain, remedies
- Sharp, sudden pain can be due to a nerve or bone injury, or possibly a clot.
It is very important to pay attention to the kind of pain you are feeling when describing your condition to a doctor.
Treatments and Natural Remedies for Forearm Pain Relief
Not all causes of forearm pain have readily available cures. In many cases your only option is to try and soothe the area while your body repairs itself. Here are some considerations for how to ease your pain:
- R.I.C.E: A handy acronym for what to do following many forms of forearm injury and sometimes tendonitis as well. R.I.C.E. stands for Rest (minimize movement), Ice (whether using an icepack or slush water to ease swelling), Compression (helps reduce swelling), and Elevation (keeping the forearm above the heart). Following these steps can reduce swelling, pain, speed healing, and reduce any muscle spasms.
- Activity reduction: When recovering from tendonitis or other forms of forearm inflammation or injury, it is important that you avoid stressing the limb. Even using the forearm in everyday activities can impede the healing process without regular breaks and overexerting yourself can cause significant setbacks in recovery.
- Massage: The forearm has certain trigger points along your shoulder and neck that can cause muscle or nerve issues there to result in pain along your arm. Massaging these regions, therefore, can sometimes help. Although a massage therapist is always a viable option, you can also try a self-administered approach. Put a tennis ball inside a long sock and hold it behind your back as you lean against the wall. Move up, down, and side-to-side slowly as you push into the wall to apply pressure to the ball, massaging out your muscle.
- To use this method on the forearm itself, rest your arm on a table with the palm facing down. Press the tennis ball into the “meaty” bit just below the elbow and roll it slowly down towards the wrist. Repeat as needed while changing your position slightly to allow for better muscle coverage.
- Exercise therapy: When recovering from tendonitis, especially if it was the result of a repetitive motion injury, exercise therapy can be a valuable tool for both regaining strength in your forearm but also improving its tolerance against future strain. The exact exercise you will need to employ is going to depend on the nature of the initial injury. Talk to your doctor or a physical therapist to get advice on the motions that will best benefit your case.
When to See a Doctor to Treat Your Forearm Pain
Although forearm pain is rarely a medical emergency, it can sometimes be an indicator for a more serious problem than just strain or inflammation. Schedule an appointment with your doctor under the following circumstances:
- The pain arises after receiving an injury (to check for sprains/breaks/fractures).
- The pain has not been responding to treatment or seems to be growing stronger over time.
- The pain emerges without apparent cause, or existing pain suddenly spikes.
- You begin to experience muscle weakness, numbness, or tingling in the arm.
Sources for Today’s Article:
“How to Treat Forearm Tendonitis,” WikiHow web site, http://www.wikihow.com/Treat-Forearm-Tendonitis, last accessed January 27, 2016.
“Elbow and Forearm Overuse Injuries Clinical Presentation”, Medscape.com http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/96638-clinical, last accessed January 27, 2016.