Why does my forearm hurt?

Overuse Injury, Self Care, Arm

Woman carrying heavy grocery bagsKelly woke up on Saturday morning with a ripping, tearing feeling in her left forearm. As she thought about the previous week, she didn’t remember hitting or straining her arm in any way that would cause intense pain

To relieve her discomfort, Kelly moved her arm into different positions. But the sensation continued whether she held her hand at her side or put it over her head. No matter what she did for relief the ripping ache did not stop. Later in the day, Kelly realized her arm the pain increased when she typed or drove her car. 

According to Dr. Pamela Glennon, one of the hand-and-arm experts at Bone & Joint, several conditions cause forearm pain and discomfort.

In Kelly’s situation, tendinitis sounded likely. 

Though Kelly carried heavy bags every day back and forth to work for the past four months without a problem, carrying several heavy grocery bags after a trip to the store could have been the tipping point of her overuse injury—causing the sudden tearing sensation in her forearm.

Her pain began suddenly after weeks of heavy lifting, which stressed the tendons in her forearms until the strain caused acute arm pain.

After seeing her healthcare provider, Kelly's diagnosis was medial epicondylitis or golfer’s elbow.

Symptoms of the condition include a burning sensation on the inside of the forearm between the wrist and the elbow. It occurs after an extended period of repetitive bending, weight-bearing, or forceful arm activities that stress the tendons near the elbow. People who carry heavy items, chop wood, drive hundreds of miles a week, or use hand tools are susceptible to golfer's elbow.

Young golfer touching the inside of his forearmBut, golfer’s elbow is just one condition that leads to forearm pain.

If you feel ripping, burning pain along the outside of the forearm, the cause may be lateral epicondylitis also known as tennis elbow. People suffering from tennis elbow experience increased pain when they grasp and lift objects, which leads to decreased grip strength.

Lateral epicondylitis is common among people who play racket sports and those whose professions involve repetitive hand movements. Painters, musicians, and carpenters are susceptible to tennis elbow, even if they don't play tennis.

De Quervain's Tendinosis may also present itself as forearm pain. This form of tendinitis produces swelling and irritation at the base of the thumb, but the pain and tenderness can radiate to the forearm. The pain is unusually severe when a person suffering from the condition uses his or her hands to grab objects or twist covers off of jars and bottles.

Of course, fractures in the hand, wrist, or arm cause pain. Since most arm fractures occur when people extend their arms to brace themselves during a fall, arm fractures frequently occur in the forearm and wrist. Whether the bone breaks completely or impact results in a hairline fracture, broken bones cause pain.

Compressed nerves occurring in the elbow, wrist, or the spinal column also contribute to forearm pain.

Carpal tunnel syndrome, the narrowing of the bony tunnel protecting the nerves that run between the wrist and the fingers, is well known. But have you heard of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome IllustrationCubital tunnel and pronator syndrome describe the compression of nerves near the elbow joint. After excessive bending or pressure on the joint, the nerves can become inflamed and pinched against bones or cartilage inside the joint. When this happens, pain radiates down the inside of the forearm. It’s often accompanied by tingling and numbness in the fingers.

Blood clots in the arm are also painful. Although deep vein thrombosis is often associated with a leg condition, many don't realize the condition also occurs in the arms. A clot in a vein near the elbow can result in pain, swelling, skin discoloration, and numbness or tingling in the forearm and hand.

An infection in the arm is not easily ignored. Characterized by severe pain, swelling, redness, and increased skin temperature accompanied by fever and chills, infections often need medical treatment. Infections can occur in the skin, muscles, tendons, and bones. A bone infection causes tenderness and pain, especially over the infected area. 

If you experience pain, don’t ignore it. Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong.

If you experience forearm pain that gets worse or your pain lasts more than a week, make an appointment with your primary care provider or see one of Bone & Joint’s hand and wrist specialists.

An orthopedic expert can diagnose your condition and get you back on the road to healthy arm movement. Call Bone & Joint at 800.445.6442 if you experience forearm pain.

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