What To Know and Do About Forearm Pain

Your forearm is the part of your arm that extends from your elbow to your wrist—and pain in this area can disrupt your daily life and functioning.1 Whether it feels like a dull ache or sharp twinge, forearm pain can make simple tasks like carrying grocery bags, walking your dog, or opening a glass jar excruciating.2

Sudden or repetitive injuries to muscles, ligaments, nerves, joints, or bones are the most common causes of forearm pain. Sometimes, forearm pain is a sign of an underlying condition like arthritis.3 If you have forearm pain, seeking medical attention for diagnosis and treatment is the best way to prevent complications and promote healing to restore the function and use of your forearm.
How Forearm Pain Presents

Understanding all the components that make up your forearm can help you determine which part of your forearm is painful. Your forearm is the part of your arm between the elbow and wrist, which contains:Bones: Two bones are in the forearm, including the radius and ulna. If you turn your arm with your palm facing up, the radius is closest to your thumb, and the ulna is closest to your little finger. The radius is slightly shorter and helps your forearm rotate at the wrist joint.4 The ulna provides stability for your forearm muscles.5
Muscles: There are twenty muscles in the forearm that work together. These muscles allow you to move your wrists, elbows, and fingers to grip objects and bend your hand.2
Ligaments: Your ligaments are fibrous (made of fibers) tissues that connect the forearm bones and stabilize joints.6
Tendons: Strong, fibrous connective tissues in the forearm that connect your muscles to your bones and support movement of the fingers, wrists, and elbows.7
Joints: Where the two bones meet together and help facilitate stability and movements like wrist rotation.89
Nerves: Forearm nerves supply sensation to the hands, fingers, and forearm and support your muscle movements.10

Forearm pain can vary and will often depend on which part of your forearm is hurting and the underlying cause of the pain. Symptoms of forearm pain may feel like:11Dull aches
Sharp or stabbing pain
Numbness or loss of sensation in the forearm or hand(s)
Electric "shocks"

With forearm pain, you may also experience a limited range of motion in your elbow or wrist, swelling, or difficulty grasping or gripping objects.12

Potential Causes of Forearm Pain

There are many possible causes of forearm pain, ranging from acute injury to underlying medical conditions.
Acute Injury

Forearm pain is often due to acute (sudden) injury to one or more musculoskeletal structures in the forearm. Injuries often occur after a fall, direct blow to the forearm, or accident. Common acute injuries that cause forearm pain include:13
Fractures: A broken bone (e.g., ulna or radius) can cause intense pain, swelling, and bruising in the forearm.4
Sprains: A stretched or torn ligament can cause pain, swelling, bruising, and the inability to rotate your wrist. Some people hear a tear or pop when a sprain occurs.14
Strains: A torn or stretched muscle or tendon can cause pain and tenderness, muscle spasms, swelling, and limited mobility in the forearm.14

Overuse Injury

Overuse injuries (also called repetitive use injuries) are common causes of forearm pain. People who perform repetitive motions or engage in strenuous sports or work activities can develop this type of injury due to overusing the forearm. Some examples of overuse injuries in the forearm include:
Tendinitis: Inflammation of the forearm tendons (tissue that connects muscles to bones) can cause pain and tenderness that worsens with movement, night pain, and morning stiffness. 15 Tendinitis is sometimes called different names, depending on the cause (e.g., tennis elbow or golfer's elbow). 15
Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS): Repetitive hand and wrist movements (such as typing) or working with vibrating machinery can lead to compression of the median nerve, which runs through the forearm to the palm. Numbness, tingling, and pain in the fingers and hands are common with CTS, which sometimes travels from the hand up to the forearm.1617
Bursitis: Inflammation of the bursae (which are fluid-filled sacs that cushion bones and soft tissues) can cause swelling, redness, and forearm pain when the bursae in the elbow become irritated and inflamed. It may also be difficult to bend your elbow or rotate your forearm with bursitis.18

Arthritis causes inflammation of the joints. Developing this condition in the elbow or wrist can lead to stiffness, swelling, and pain in the forearm. Several types of arthritis can affect the wrists and elbows and cause forearm pain, including:19
Osteoarthritis: Occurs when cartilage (cushions at the end of your bones where joints form) breaks down, causing bones to rub together. Symptoms include limited range of motion in the affected joints, stiffness, and pain.20
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA): A form of inflammatory autoimmune arthritis that commonly affects the elbows and other joints. RA causes joint pain, swelling, redness, and limited range of motion in the affected joints. Some people with RA may develop subcutaneous rheumatoid nodules, which are firm lumps under the skin that can appear outside the forearm near the elbow.21
Psoriatic arthritis (PsA): Another type of inflammatory arthritis that often occurs alongside psoriasis (an autoimmune disorder that causes patches on the skin). When PsA affects the elbow, pain can radiate from the elbow to the forearm.22

Nerve Compression

Forearm pain can occur when a nerve in the arm or neck becomes compressed or "pinched." Common causes of nerve compression include:
Cervical radiculopathy: This compression of a nerve in the neck, often from a herniated (slipped) disc or age-related "wear and tear" on the neck's discs and bones, can cause pain and numbness that radiates down one or both of your arms.23 Some people may also have a limited range of motion or weakness in their arms with this condition.24
Cubital tunnel syndrome: Compression of the ulnar nerve, which runs from your neck down through the muscles in the forearm to your hand, causes symptoms like tingling, numbness, and weakness in the arm and hand.25
Median nerve compression: Occurs when the median nerve, which runs along the inside of the arm, becomes compressed or irritated. Common symptoms include forearm pain, numbness, and muscle weakness that may make it difficult to grip objects.26


While less common than other causes of forearm pain, infections of the bones or soft tissues (e.g., skin) can contribute to forearm discomfort. Some examples of these infections include:
Osteomyelitis: Infection in the bones or joints in the forearm can develop due to injury or trauma. Symptoms include deep pain in the affected bone that worsens with movement, fever, sweating, swelling, redness, and warmth over the affected area.27
Cellulitis: A bacterial infection in the deeper layers of the skin can also affect the forearm, causing redness, swelling, warmth, muscle aches, and joint pain. This condition often occurs when bacteria enter a break in the skin, such as from a scratch, wound, or bug bite.28
Pyomyositis: Another type of bacterial infection in the forearm muscles, which can sometimes cause an abscess (collection of pus). People with weakened immune systems (such as those with diabetes, cancer, or HIV). This condition often causes symptoms like fever, redness, swelling, and pain in the forearm.29
When To Contact a Healthcare Provider

While some forearm pain may resolve on its own with rest and self-care methods, it's best to see a healthcare provider for proper diagnosis and treatment if:30
The pain is severe, persistent, or worsens despite at-home treatments
You experience significant swelling, bruising, or deformity in your forearm
Numbness, tingling, or weakness accompanies forearm pain
Forearm pain develops after a recent fall or accident
You're experiencing a fever alongside pain symptoms
How Providers Diagnose Forearm Pain

Diagnosing the cause of forearm pain typically involves reviewing your medical history, conducting a physical examination, and ordering diagnostic tests. At your appointment, you can expect your provider to ask:30
When the pain started
What the pain feels like
If you recently experienced an injury or infection
Which activities worsen or relieve the pain
What you do for work (which may cause an overuse injury)
Whether you play sports or participate in other strenuous activities

During the physical exam, your healthcare provider will examine your forearm to check for swelling, tenderness, and redness. They may ask you to move your arm or hand in certain ways to check your arm's range of motion and test your grip strength and sensations in your arms, hands, and fingers.3132

If necessary, your healthcare provider may order tests to determine an accurate diagnosis. These tests include:
Imaging tests: X-rays, ultrasounds, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can help visualize the bones, connective tissues (e.g., ligaments, tendons), and soft tissues to look for abnormalities like fractures, tendinitis, bursitis, or nerve compression.3334
Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies: These tests assess your nerve function and your muscles' electrical signals to help diagnose muscle or nerve problems.35
How To Treat Forearm Pain

Your exact treatment plan will depend on the severity of your pain and the underlying cause of your symptoms. Treatment may include at-home remedies, medical treatments, physical therapy, and complementary methods.
At-Home Remedies

When minor injuries cause forearm pain, at-home remedies may be enough to manage the pain and promote healing. These treatments may include:3036
Rest: Avoiding physical activities for a few days can help relieve pain sooner
Ice therapy: Applying ice packs wrapped in a towel for up to 20 minutes at a time, several times a day to reduce inflammation
Over-the-counter (OTC) pain relievers: Medications like Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen) can help manage pain and discomfort
Compression support: Wearing compression socks can stabilize the forearm and minimize pain during movement
Medical Treatments

Your provider may prescribe medications or recommend other treatments, depending on the cause of forearm pain. This may include:Prescription medications: Stronger pain relievers like prescription-strength nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) like Aleve (naproxen) or corticosteroid injections in the forearm can help reduce inflammation and pain3738
Immobilization: Serious forearm injuries may require splints or casts to immobilize the forearm and promote healing.30
Surgery: In some cases, surgery to repair damaged tendons, ligaments, nerves, or bones is necessary.25

Physical Therapy

Your healthcare provider may refer you to a physical therapist for a forearm injury or underlying condition that is causing pain, limiting your range of motion, or affecting your daily functioning. A physical therapist will develop a personalized exercise and stretch program to improve strength and flexibility and prevent future injuries.30
Complementary Methods

Some people opt for complementary therapies to help manage forearm pain. These therapies are not meant to replace conventional medical treatments but may help manage certain types of forearm pain.
Massage therapy: Putting gentle pressure and massage techniques on the affected area can reduce muscle tension and induce relaxation, which may help offer short-term pain relief.39
Ultrasound therapy: Applying sound waves to the forearm to help reduce inflammation, relieve pain, or manage certain types of forearm pain, such as tendinitis.40
Acupuncture: A Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practice that involves inserting thin needles into specific points on the body. Some studies suggest acupuncture provides short-term pain relief for muscle pain and arthritis.41
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