Why Your Forearm Hurts When You Lift: Causes & Treatments

Why Your Forearm Hurts When You Lift: Causes & Treatments

Forearm pain when lifting isn't something to ignore. It's a sign your body is telling you that something's not quite right. It could be as simple as overuse, strain, or something more severe like tendonitis. Timely intervention is critical to prevent further injury and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The good news is that you have prevention and treatment options, including using a forearm massager, stretching, performing strengthening exercises, and others.

An Overview of Your Forearm Muscles

The forearm is organized into three distinct layers of muscles: superficial, intermediate, and deep. Collectively, these layers enable a broad range of motions, crucial for dexterous activities involving your forearm, wrist, and hand.

The superficial layer, easily accessible under the skin, includes muscles such as the flexor carpi ulnaris and the extensor carpi radialis, which primarily aid wrist flexion and extension. 

The intermediate layer contains fewer muscles, like the flexor digitorum superficialis, critical in flexing your fingers. 

The deep layer, nestled further beneath, consists of muscles such as the flexor digitorum profundus and the pronator quadratus. These muscles are essential for more intricate movements, including finger flexion at the distal joints and forearm pronation.

Common Causes of Forearm Pain When Lifting

Understanding why you experience forearm pain during weightlifting can help you prevent serious injuries and ensure a more effective exercise regimen. The primary causes behind this issue can be narrowed down to three common but still dangerous scenarios.

Overuse of Your Forearm Muscles

Forearm pain during weightlifting is expected when you overuse your muscles and don't allow for sufficient recovery time between workout sessions. In most cases, this overuse leads to inflammation in your forearm muscle, which can sometimes be a severe medical condition. Signs of overused forearm muscles include swelling, spasm, and redness around the pain area. 

Forearm Splints

Forearm splints are a widespread overuse injury. Similar to the more commonly known shin splints, they involve irritation and inflammation of the muscles and surrounding tissues. Forearm splints affect the muscles within the forearm, particularly those extensively used in activities requiring repetitive wrist and hand motions, such as weightlifting, gymnastics, or racket sports. Symptoms include tenderness, redness, and swelling.

Incorrect Lifting Technique

Your lifting form significantly influences your risk of experiencing forearm pain. Poor posture and incorrect weightlifting techniques impose excessive stress on your forearm, potentially leading to injuries. It's common to feel pain when lifting weights in awkward positions as the pressure on your forearm escalates. Experiencing pain is a hallmark of an incorrect lifting technique.

Muscle Imbalance

Muscle imbalances can occur when you perform the same repetitive motions for several sets and reps — for example, bicep curls — which results in overworking specific muscles. Perfecting your lifting techniques and maintaining a balanced exercise routine can help you avoid this cause of forearm pain.

Forearm Pain with Bicep Curls

Forearm pain is a common overuse injury associated with bicep curls primarily due to the repetitive nature of the exercise and the significant strain it places on the forearm muscles and tendons. 

During bicep curls, your forearm muscles, particularly the flexors, are engaged to stabilize the wrist and grip the weight. This constant tension can lead to muscle fatigue and strain. Additionally, incorrect form, such as curling weighty weights or using improper wrist positioning, can exacerbate stress on your forearm, leading to inflammation or even tissue micro-tears. 

Over time, without adequate rest and recovery strategies, these stresses can result in persistent forearm pain, highlighting the importance of proper technique, balanced training, and tools (such as foam rollers) to prevent such injuries.

Treatment & Prevention Options

Here are some recommended practices to safeguard your arms during intense weightlifting sessions.

Foam Rolling

Foam rolling, often tagged as a self-myofascial release technique, can be an excellent tool for relieving muscle tightness and discomfort. Using the foam roller on your forearm enhances your muscle flexibility and mobility. It facilitates a better range of motion, including a few foam rolling benefits. This practice can be especially beneficial after intensive weightlifting sessions since it helps to speed your muscle recovery.

RICE Method

Consider the RICE method (Rice, Ice, Compression, Elevation), a non-invasive, self-administered approach for managing pain and swelling. Take the time to rest and let your body heal; don't push through the pain. Apply ice to the painful area, compress it with a bandage, and try to keep your arm elevated as much as possible. Please remember that RICE is only a short-term remedy. If your pain persists, seek professional medical advice.

Strengthening Exercises for Forearms

Strengthening exercises targeting the forearms can significantly improve your resilience against frequent muscle fatigue. Each exercise contributes to developing muscle endurance, whether utilizing a tennis ball squeeze, wrist extension, or the classic hammer curl.

Proper Warm-up & Stretching

Any physical exertion should start with a proper warm-up. Giving your body a heads-up like this can help prevent unnecessary muscle strain. Also, incorporating forearm stretches into your routine can do wonders for preventing injuries. These stretches can release tension and help you maintain elasticity in your muscles, particularly in the tendons of your forearm, which bear the brunt during weightlifting.

When to Seek Medical Attention

While conservative treatment options and adequate rest often resolve most forearm pain issues, there are instances when you should seek professional medical advice.

Suppose you're experiencing constant and severe forearm pain that doesn't seem to improve over time. In that case, it may indicate something more serious, such as forearm tendonitis. Repetitive strain or sudden injury could cause this, leading to inflammation and micro-tearing within your forearm tendons. Symptoms include aching or burning pain when you're gripping something or typing. The pain arises between the wrist and the elbow and can be described as tenderness or tightness.

Additionally, the loss of grip strength can be a significant warning sign. This could be caused by various conditions related to the forearm and wrist, such as tendonitis or repetitive strain injuries.

Diagnostic Approaches

Diagnosing forearm pain typically begins with a detailed physical examination, during which a healthcare provider assesses the pain's location, intensity, and any associated symptoms, such as swelling or redness. 

The provider may also conduct specific tests to evaluate your range of motion, muscle strength, and pain response to various movements. Imaging tests are often necessary to further pinpoint the cause of the pain. X-rays help detect bone fractures or joint abnormalities. At the same time, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans provide a more detailed view, helping to identify soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains, ligament tears, or tendonitis. 

These diagnostic tools and your medical history will help your doctor form an accurate diagnosis and a tailored treatment plan.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does forearm tendonitis feel like?

Forearm tendonitis is often characterized by pain in the tendon when you move it, swelling due to fluid and inflammation, and a grating sensation during joint movement.

How long should forearm pain last?

Mild strains heal in a week or two, whereas Grade 2 strains may persist for six weeks. Grade 3 strains need surgical attention. Regardless, it is vital to allow complete healing of forearm strains. Depending on your doctor's recommendations, you can facilitate recovery by foam rolling your forearm area or performing specific stretching exercises.

Why does my forearm hurt when I pick up something?

You could attribute forearm pain when lifting to various factors, including sports and overuse injuries, fractures, pinched nerves, accidents, or even infections causing body aches or infecting forearm tissues.

Why does my forearm hurt when I pull up?

Inner forearm pain when executing pull-ups is primarily due to excessive muscle load. This could be a lack of endurance in your forearm muscles for the load, or you might be putting an overwhelming load on them.

How do I know if I tore a tendon in my forearm?

A complete tendon rupture or laceration in your forearm might result in a lack of movement in part of your arm or hand. The impairment level depends on the injury location — it could limit your motion within a small hand area or prevent movement across multiple arm joints.

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