Forearm pain quiz
Take a quiz to find out what's causing your pain.
Your left or right forearm pain can be caused by a fall, diabetes, certain infections and immune dysfunctions. Learn more about forearm pain causes & symptoms.
9 most common causes
Symptoms of forearm pain
Perhaps you've just been carrying on with your day like normal, or maybe you have spent too much time typing at the computer. But for some reason, your forearm does not feel right. In certain cases, such as after a fall, the origin of forearm pain is easily identified. However, the origin of forearm discomfort is unknown quite often. The best way to uncover the underlying cause is to identify the symptoms and characteristics of the pain as specifically as possible.
Common accompanying symptoms of forearm pain
If you're experiencing forearm pain, it may also be described by:
- Sharp pain in one or both forearms
- Dull aching pain in one or both forearms
- Sensation changes: This may be described as tingling, diminished, or altered sensation in one or both forearms or hands.
- Weakness of the forearm, wrist, or fingers
- Visible muscle atrophy of the muscles in the forearm or fingers
Certain causes of forearm pain symptoms can be due to complex processes that may involve other symptoms. In addition to the symptoms listed above, it is important to also pay attention to the following, which may indicate underlying immune dysfunction.
Causes of forearm pain
In some instances, the cause of forearm pain is easily identified, such as after a fall or injury. In other cases, the underlying cause of forearm pain can be harder to pinpoint.
Various diseases can result in forearm pain as a symptom.
- Metabolic: Common metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, damage the nerves causing pain and/or numbness in the hands and forearms. Many people with diabetes also have atherosclerosis, which causes poor blood flow as well as cramping or weakness in the forearms.
- Tumor: Any abnormal structure that compresses a nerve along its path between the spine and the forearm can lead to pain or numbness in the forearm.
- Hereditary: Certain inherited neuropathies, such as Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, can cause nerve sensitivity and/or degeneration. These disorders are more frequently diagnosed in childhood but are also sometimes diagnosed in adulthood. Blood clots in the arm are rare, but certain anatomic variations in the branching of arm veins can cause individuals to be predisposed to clots in the arm.
Forearm pain may be the result of inflammation.
- Autoimmune: Vasculitis is a condition where the immune cells attack blood vessels, and it can affect many parts of the body, including the nerves. In cases where vasculitis causes forearm pain, either one or both arms can be affected. Symptoms may include pain, tingling, numbness, weakness, and muscle wasting.
- Infection: Many common viruses, such as those that cause chicken pox and cold sores, can also cause inflammation in the nerves (shingles). Usually, this results in pain or numbness that lasts for approximately the duration of the active viral infection.
Environmental causes of forearm pain may include certain events or exposures.
- Fracture: Falling onto an outstretched hand is a very common cause of forearm fracture. If the pain is due to a fracture, it is important to assess whether there is any numbness, tingling, or decreased circulation in the affected region, as any of these are signs that immediate medical attention is needed.
- Compression from disk herniation: Compression of a nerve that travels to the forearm from herniation of a cervical disk in the spine is another common cause of arm pain.
- Interruption of blood supply: If anything happens to an artery or vein that blocks the flow of blood to or from the arm, this will cause arm pain, numbness, weakness, and/or swelling.
- Toxins: Ingestion of certain metals, such as lead and mercury, can lead to nerve damage and arm pain. Additionally, excess consumption of alcohol can damage nerves, causing numbness and/or pain.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
A wrist sprain is an injury to the ligaments in the wrist. A mild sprain involves just stretching of the ligaments while more severe sprains can tear the ligaments.
You should see your primary care doctor tomorrow. He or she may request imaging to make sure that there is no further damage to the bones of the wrist.
Ulnar nerve entrapment of elbow
Ulnar nerve entrapment of elbow is also called cubital tunnel syndrome. The ulnar nerve begins at the spinal cord in the neck and runs down the arm into the hand. This very long nerve can become compressed, or entrapped, by other structures at certain points along the way. Entrapment often happens in the cubital tunnel, which is the narrow passage at the inside of the elbow.
The exact cause for entrapment may not be known. Fluid buildup and swelling inside the elbow; previous elbow fracture or dislocation; or leaning on the elbow for long periods of time can put pressure on the ulnar nerve inside the cubital tunnel.
Symptoms include numbness and tingling of the hand and fingers, sometimes leading to weakness and even muscle wasting in the hand.
Diagnosis is made through physical examination, x-ray, and nerve conduction studies.
Treatment begins with wearing a supportive brace and adjusting activities to avoid further irritating the nerve. Surgery is usually not needed unless the nerve compression is causing weakness and loss of use in the hand.
Top Symptoms: hand weakness, weakness in one hand, numbness in one hand, pain in one elbow, pain in one forearm
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Forearm strain from a repetitive injury
Repetitive strain injury of the forearm is caused by constantly using the wrist.
You do not need treatment, just rest from your overuse. Wearing a brace and physical therapy might be helpful.
Top Symptoms: forearm numbness, forearm weakness, forearm pain from overuse
Symptoms that always occur with forearm strain from a repetitive injury: forearm pain from overuse
Symptoms that never occur with forearm strain from a repetitive injury: severe forearm pain, forearm injury
Fibromyalgia is a set of chronic symptoms that include ongoing fatigue, diffuse tenderness to touch, musculoskeletal pain, and usually some degree of depression.
The cause is not known. When fibromyalgia appears, it is usually after a stressful physical or emotional event such as an automobile accident or a divorce. It may include a genetic component where the person experiences normal sensation as pain.
Almost 90% of fibromyalgia sufferers are women. Anyone with rheumatic disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus, may be more prone to fibromyalgia.
Poor sleep is often a symptom, along with foggy thinking, headaches, painful menstrual periods, and increased sensitivity to heat, cold, bright lights, and loud noises.
There is no standard test for fibromyalgia. The diagnosis is usually made when the above symptoms go on for three months or more with no apparent cause.
Fibromyalgia does not go away on its own but does not get worse, either.
Treatment involves easing symptoms and improving the patient's quality of life through pain medications, exercise, improved diet, and help with managing stressful situations.
Top Symptoms: fatigue, arthralgias or myalgias, anxiety, depressed mood, headache
Symptoms that always occur with fibromyalgia: arthralgias or myalgias
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation)
Radial head subluxation is a partial dislocation of a bone in the elbow called the radius. Dislocation means the bone slips out of its normal position.
You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. Apply an ice pack to your elbow, but do not try to straighten or change position of your arm.
Top Symptoms: pain in one elbow, swollen elbow, difficulty moving the elbow, holding arm close to body because of pain, elbow pain from an injury
Symptoms that always occur with elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation): pain in one elbow
Symptoms that never occur with elbow dislocation (radial head subluxation): elbow locking
Urgency: In-person visit
De quervain's tenosynovitis
De Quervain's tenosynovitis is a painful condition affecting the tendons on the thumb side of the wrist. If you have de Quervain's tenosynovitis, you will feel pain upon turning your wrist, grasping anything, or making a fist.
You should visit your primary care physician to confirm the diagnosis and discuss treatment options. You can also reduce pain and swelling with over-the-counter pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve).
Top Symptoms: hand numbness, thumb pain, hand weakness, weakness in one hand, numbness in one hand
Symptoms that always occur with de quervain's tenosynovitis: thumb pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome causes numbness and pain in the underside of the wrist and hand. It is caused by narrowing of the carpal tunnel passageway, which puts pressure on the nerve running through it.
Narrowing and deformity of the tunnel is most often from overuse, especially highly repetitive activities such as typing or working on an assembly line. Wrist fracture or arthritis can damage the carpal tunnel, and so can diabetes and obesity.
Symptoms include numbness and shocklike pain in the wrist, palm, and fingers. There may be weakness in the hand when trying to hold an object.
Carpal tunnel syndrome virtually always gets worse over time. Permanent damage may result, so it is important to be seen by a medical provider.
Diagnosis is made through patient history and physical examination. X-rays or electromyography testing may be used.
Rest and cold packs to the wrist will reduce swelling. Wrist splints and ergonomically correct keyboards and other devices during work are often helpful.
Corticosteroid injections and surgery may also be tried.
Buckle fracture of distal radius
A buckle fracture of the wrist, also known as a torus fracture, is a condition that are most common in children aged 5-10 years due to the elasticity of their bones. This fracture occurs when force is applied to the radius (one of the two bones of the forearm), causing the bone to split along the growth plate.
You should visit your primary care physician within the next 24 hours. The treatment for this kind of fracture is immobilization in a cast.
Top Symptoms: constant forearm pain, forearm pain from an injury, pain in one forearm, swollen forearm, wrist injury
Symptoms that always occur with buckle fracture of distal radius: forearm pain from an injury, constant forearm pain
Urgency: Primary care doctor
A bruise is the damage of the blood vessels that return blood to the heart (the capillaries and veins), which causes pooling of the blood. This explains the blue/purple color of most bruises. Bruises of the forearm are common, often due to minor injuries.
You can treat this at home with R.I.C.E - rest (exercise as tolerated), ice (10-20 minutes at a time), compression (with tape or bandage), and elevation.
Top Symptoms: constant forearm pain, pain in one forearm, forearm pain from an injury, forearm bruise, swelling of one forearm
Symptoms that always occur with bruised forearm: forearm pain from an injury, constant forearm pain
Forearm pain treatments and relief
Mild forearm pain may be treated at home in some cases. You should see a doctor for pain that persists or for a significant injury.
When it is an emergency
You should go to the emergency room if you experience the following.
When to see a doctor
You should see a doctor promptly if you experience the following.
- Weakness in your arm(s) with exertion: Such as while lifting or playing sports
- Intermittent tingling, numbness, or pain in your arms or hands lasting no longer than a few minutes at a time: If symptoms persist longer than a few minutes, consider going to an emergency room.
- Medication changes: See a doctor if you believe a change in your medications is causing difficulty focusing, sitting still, or falling asleep at night.
Several treatments can be tried at home to alleviate forearm pain. However, if a fracture is suspected or if pain persists for more than 24 to 48 hours, call your doctor or head to an emergency room.
- Rest: Resting the affected muscle groups can often help to diminish pain.
- Ice: Applying a cold pack to the source of pain for no more than 15 minutes at a time, three times a day, can also reduce inflammation.
- NSAIDs: Taking the suggested dose of an over-the-counter NSAID, such as ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can also help lessen musculoskeletal pain.
FAQs about forearm pain
Here are some frequently asked questions about forearm pain.
Why do I have forearm pain when gripping?
The most common cause of forearm pain while gripping is tennis elbow or lateral epicondylitis. Tennis elbow is caused by chronic inflammation of the tendon, commonly called chronic tendonitis. The tendon is injured from continuing use and strain of the tendon. As the body attempts to heal the tendon, the scar tissue in place causes pain when the area is stressed.
Why are my forearms sore for no reason?
There are many causes of forearm pain. A medical examination is necessary to identify the underlying cause of forearm pain if it is unclear. Unintentional muscle strain is a common cause. Other causes include cramps following blocked arteries or blood vessels in the arms, as well as nerve compression (e.g. carpal tunnel syndrome), or diabetes-associated neuropathy.
What does it feel like to have a blood clot in your arm?
A blood clot will feel different depending on which blood vessel it blocks, either an artery or vein. If a clot blocks an artery, your arm will become cold, painful, and pulseless, making it a medical emergency. The arm will become difficult to move and sensation will decrease. If a vein is blocked, the limb may be warm, swollen, and have some degree of decreased sensation. Blood clots are uncommon in the arms in the absence of trauma or procedure done in the arm or neck region.
Can an infection cause forearm pain?
Yes, an infection of the blood vessels called thrombophlebitis can cause forearm pain. Infection of the skin over the forearm can cause cellulitis, which can also be quite painful. Additionally, breaking the skin from a fall or scrape, or injection of medication, can also cause a deep tissue infection and forearm pain.
Why do my forearms hurt when I have a cold?
Viral infections can cause muscle pain (myalgia) that usually resolves. Viral infections cause pain in the muscles throughout the body, but can also cause pain in particular areas of the body, including the legs or arms. If you have fever, chills, or back pain as well as widespread muscle pain, you should seek medical attention.
Forearm pain symptom checker statistics
People who have experienced forearm pain have also experienced:
- 13% Pain In The Upper Arm
- 10% Shoulder Pain
- 9% Wrist Pain
People who have experienced forearm pain were most often matched with:
- 42% Ulnar Nerve Entrapment Of Elbow
- 42% Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- 14% Forearm Strain From A Repetitive Injury
People who have experienced forearm pain had symptoms persist for:
- 29% Over a month
- 25% Less than a day
- 25% Less than a week
Source: Aggregated and anonymized results from Buoy Assistant (a.k.a. the quiz).
Questions your doctor may ask about forearm pain
- How would you explain your forearm pain?
- Have someone feel for your pulse (at the wrist) on the side of your body that hurts. Now, turn your head to that side. Does the pulse go away? (This is known as the Adson's test.)
- What is your body mass?
- Turn your head toward the side of your body that is hurting. Lift your head up as someone else pushes down on your head. Does this cause greater pain in your upper body? (This is known as Spurling's test.)
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
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- Peripheral Neuropathy. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Published February 2018. NIDDK Link.
- Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease Fact Sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Updated July 6, 2018. NINDS Link.
- Symptoms of Vasculitis. Johns Hopkins Vasculitis Center. Hopkins Vasculitis Link.
- Tennis Elbow (Lateral Epicondylitis). American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: OrthoInfo. Updated July 2015. OrthoInfo Link.
- Teague S. Blood Clots. RadiologyInfo.org. Updated August 15, 2018. RadiologyInfo.org Link.