Common Causes & Symptoms of Pain in Both Forearms Explained
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Experiencing pain in both forearms could implicate repetitive strain from overuse, or trauma from an injury. Compressed and damaged nerves, or a wrist sprain can cause aching and sore forearms. Read below for more information on causes and treatment options.
Pain in both forearms symptoms
Your arms are needed for everyday tasks such as walking the dog, lifting boxes, or bringing in groceries. Pain in both forearms can limit your movement and leave you feeling unproductive. Experiencing pain in both forearms, not just one, is an uncommon symptom that should be addressed by a physician. Multiple components of the forearm can be injured and cause pain. Your forearm is the area in the upper limb between the elbow and wrist. The radius and the ulna are the long bones of the forearm. The forearm contains an anterior group of muscles that work to flex the wrist and fingers and a posterior group of muscles that work to extend the wrist and fingers. Three primary nerves run through the forearm called the radial, median, and ulnar nerve, as well as two principal arteries in the forearm, called the radial artery and ulnar artery.
Common accompanying symptoms of pain in both forearms
If you're experiencing pain in both forearms, it's also likely to experience:
- Limited range of movement
- Tenderness to the touch
- Difficulty grasping objects or using the hands
Causes of pain in both forearms
Pain in both forearms is most likely the result of injury or inflammation to the components within the forearm space.
As discussed above, the bones of the forearm include:
- The radius: This bone starts at the elbow and connects at the wrist on the thumb side.
- The ulna: This bone starts at the elbow and connects at the wrist on the pinkie side.
- Muscles: The forearm also contains multiple muscles that not only work to turn the forearm/hand upwards (supination) and downwards (pronation) but also flex and extend the digits of the hand.
Musculoskeletal causes of bilateral forearm pain involve issues in the way the components of the forearm work together.
- Positional: Repetitive actions such as typing, using crutches, and even walking the dog can cause compression of the nerves and blood vessels that branch throughout the forearm. Repetitive positional injury may result in bilateral forearm swelling and pain.
- Biomechanical: Issues in the forearm such dislocations or sprains can also result in chronic bilateral forearm pain.
Traumatic causes of bilateral forearm pain include those that result in injury to the components of the forearm.
- Fracture: Anything that causes direct injury to the forearm — a car accident, a traumatic fall, a direct blow — can result in broken bones in the forearm as well as swelling and pain. These causes may also be associated with visible deformity and bleeding, depending on the severity of the trauma.
- Sprain: A sprain is defined as twisting or stretching a ligament or tendon. A ligament is a band of connective tissue that connects bone-to-bone. A tendon is also a band of connective tissue, but it connects muscle-to-bone. Activities that cause bending, twisting, sudden movement or direct impact can sprain the multiple ligaments of the forearm.
- Stress: Stress related to day-to-day activities may manifest in different parts of the body. The forearms are intrinsically related to many activities of daily living such as getting dressed, holding objects, typing, etc.
- Somatization: Somatization is the expression of mental phenomena as physical symptoms. For example, you may have experienced thoughts of forearm pain that are now manifesting as physical pain.
This list does not constitute medical advice and may not accurately represent what you have.
Thoracic outlet syndrome
The "thoracic outlet" is the space on either side of the base of the neck where nerves, arteries, and veins travel beneath the collarbone. If these become compressed or damaged, the condition is called thoracic outlet syndrome or TOS.
The most common causes are trauma, such as a car accident or fall; and repetition or overuse, such as a sports injury.
Symptoms vary depending on the structures being compressed:
- Neurogenic TOS affects the nerves. It is the most common form and creates numbness, tingling, pain, and weakness in the arms, hand, and fingers.
- Vascular TOS affects the arteries and veins. It creates the same symptoms as neurogenic TOS as well as cold, pale hands and arms with weak pulse.
It is important to see a medical provider about these symptoms so that the damage does not become permanent.
Diagnosis is made through patient history, physical examination, imaging such as x-ray or ultrasound, and sometimes nerve conduction and blood flow studies.
Treatment involves physical therapy, pain relievers, and sometimes surgery.
Top Symptoms: pain in one shoulder, spontaneous shoulder pain, arm weakness, arm numbness, pain in one shoulder blade
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition of numbness and tingling in the hand and arm caused by compression of the mediannerve as it travels through the carpal tunnel. Causes include overuse of the wrist and hand, especially highly repetitive activities such as typing or wo...
Brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue)
The brachial plexus is a web of nerves between the neck and shoulder, connecting the spinal cord nerves to the arm. There is one web on each side of the neck. Any injury that forces the shoulder to stretch down, and the neck to stretch up and away, can damage these nerves and cause brachial plexopathy.
Sports injuries and car accidents are often involved. Inflammation, tumors, and radiation treatment can also damage the brachial plexus.
Milder symptoms include numbness and weakness in the arm, with a shocklike stinging or burning sensation. A more severe injury can cause paralysis and loss of feeling in the arm, with pain in some parts of the arm, hand, and shoulder.
These symptoms should be seen by a medical provider since permanent damage can result if the injuries are not treated.
Diagnosis is made through electromyography (EMG) testing, CT scan, MRI, and sometimes angiogram.
Treatment usually involves rest and physical therapy. Surgery may be necessary to remove scar tissue or repair the damaged nerves.
Top Symptoms: pain in one arm, shoulder pain that shoots to the arm, arm weakness, numbness in one arm, shoulder pain
Symptoms that never occur with brachial plexopathy (shoulder nerve issue): pain in the front middle part of the neck
Urgency: Primary care doctor
Acute forearm bone infection (osteomyelitis)
Osteomyelitis of the forearm is a bacterial or fungal infection of the bone, typically caused by Staph Aureus (40-50% of the time). It is difficult to diagnose as the infection can come from a break in the skin at the area or anywhere else in the body that spreads by blood.
Top Symptoms: moderate fever, spontaneous forearm pain, constant forearm pain, warm and red forearm swelling, painful surgical site
Symptoms that always occur with acute forearm bone infection (osteomyelitis): spontaneous forearm pain, constant forearm pain
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Forearm strain from a repetitive injury
Repetitive strain injury of the forearm is caused by constantly using the wrist.
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
Non-specific wrist pain
Wrist pain is common. Repetitive motion can damage your wrist. Everyday activities like typing, racquet sports or sewing can cause pain, or even carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes, wrist pain doesn't identify with a single process.
Top Symptoms: pain in one wrist, spontaneous wrist pain
Symptoms that always occur with non-specific wrist pain: pain in one wrist
Symptoms that never occur with non-specific wrist pain: severe wrist pain
Contusion of the wrist
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 wrist are common, often due to minor injuries.
Top Symptoms: wrist injury, pain in one wrist, wrist pain from an injury, swelling of one wrist, wrist bruise
Symptoms that always occur with contusion of the wrist: wrist injury
Wrist sprain is often associated with traumatic events such as falls or sporting accidents. However, wrist sprain can also stem from chronic issues such as repetitive stress and the normal aging process. The wrists are so necessary and used so frequently that sometimes it may be difficult to differe...
Severe wrist pain
Severe arm pain should be checked out with imaging and a physical exam by a doctor.
Top Symptoms: severe wrist pain
Urgency: Hospital emergency room
Pain in both forearms treatments and relief
Since pain in both forearms is rare and causes are varied, it is important to make an appointment with your physician in order to get the proper diagnosis and treatment.
There are some lifestyle changes and techniques you can try at home to help alleviate symptoms.
- Practice ergonomics: If you spend much of your day typing at a keyboard or doing activities that put pressure on your forearms, make time for regular breaks. Keep your hands in a relaxed, neutral position when you type and use foam supports with your keyboard.
- Build up your bones: Take calcium supplements to strengthen your bones and prevent fractures.
- Use protective gear during sports activities: Using hand guards during activities such as snowboarding, rollerblading, gymnastics and tennis can help prevent injury.
When to see a doctor
If your symptoms persist despite the strategies above, make an appointment with your healthcare provider. Depending on the cause of your symptoms, your physician may suggest:
- Pain medication: Medications such as NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) can help alleviate pain in both forearms.
- Anti-inflammatory: Inflammatory causes of pain in both forearms may be treated with various types of medications that target and decrease inflammation, including immune system suppressing drugs.
Physical therapy or rehabilitation: Your doctor may prescribe stretching exercises or a physical therapy/rehabilitation program to help you restore range of motion, strength, and stability to your forearm, hand, and fingers.
When it is an emergency
The following symptoms may be associated with a fracture or severe injury leading to decreased blood flow to that area. Seek medical care immediately if:
- Any part of the forearm appears deformed
- You cannot feel or move your forearm or hand
- You notice bruising or tenderness to the touch
- You have persistent swelling and pain
- The forearm is numb and turns white or pink
FAQs about pain in both forearms
Is pain in both forearms life-threatening?
Usually, pain in both forearms is not life-threatening, especially if it is related to a strain or injury. The one life- and/or limb-threatening condition to be worried about is compartment syndrome — a situation in which increased pressure within a confined space can restrict blood supply to an organ. Though possible, compartment syndrome of both forearms is rare.
How do you treat compartment syndrome?
Acute compartment syndrome is a surgical emergency. Your doctor will make an incision and cut open the skin and fascia covering the affected compartment. This procedure is called a fasciotomy. Non-surgical treatment is the first option for chronic, exertional compartment syndrome. Physical therapy, braces or supports, and anti-inflammatory medicines are often suggested.
What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain, numbness and tingling in the hand and arm. It is a common condition that occurs when one of the major nerves to the hand — the median nerve — is squeezed or compressed as it travels through the wrist.
How do you treat carpal tunnel syndrome?
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a gradual process that usually worsens over time without some form of treatment. There are nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for carpal tunnel syndrome depending on the stage of the disease. For example, early stages can be treated with pain medication, bracing/splinting, and activity changes. However, if the condition has progressed significantly, surgical treatment may be necessary.
What are the side effects of carpal tunnel syndrome surgery?
Carpal tunnel release is a surgery used to treat and potentially heal the painful condition known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes, the surgery can have long-term complications such as scar tenderness, pillar pain (pain and tenderness localized around the bones of the hand (scaphoid, pisiform or hook of the hamate), and Tinel’s sign (pain or tingling when slightly tapping over the nerve).
Questions your doctor may ask about pain in both forearms
- 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?
- Have you ever been diagnosed with diabetes?
Self-diagnose with our free Buoy Assistant if you answer yes on any of these questions.
Pain in both forearms symptom checker statistics
People who have experienced pain in both forearms have also experienced:
- 6% Pain In Both Hands
- 4% Weakness In Both Hands
- 3% Swelling Of Both Forearms
People who have experienced pain in both forearms were most often matched with:
- 40% Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
- 30% Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- 30% Brachial Plexopathy (Shoulder Nerve Issue)
People who have experienced pain in both forearms 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).
Dr. Gambrah-Lyles is a resident pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. She is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine (2019). She graduated cum laude and received her undergraduate degree in Biochemistry and Spanish from Washington University in St. Louis (2013). Her research explores the intersections between neurology, public health, and infectious disease. She has investigated nutrition and cerebral palsy in Botswana, and completed a year-long project in Brazil, researching growth and developmental outcomes of Zika virus infection in pediatric patients as a Doris Duke International Scholar. Dr. Gambrah-Lyles speaks four languages, loves staying active, and enjoys sharing her love for medicine through teaching and writing.
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