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Forearm pain when gripping: Common causes and treatment options

Here's what the research has to say about forearm pain when gripping.
Written By  Liam Brown
Last Updated on 4th March 2021
Woman with a strained forearm muscle

The forearm muscles are numerous and small in comparison to other muscles of the human body. As such, injuries in and around the lower arm region are quite common.

Forearm pain when gripping is one of the typical symptoms of a lower arm injury. This discomfort can occur in the forearm itself, but it may manifest in the wrist or elbow as well.

"Folks that are working mechanics, doing a lot of wrist work, a lot of wrenching—that type of thing—carpentry. Even people who do weightlifting on a regular basis start to get pain in through these [forearm] tendons."
Dr. Wil Liwanag, D.C.
River Valley Chiropractic

We’re going to look at 6 possible causes and 4 recovery options to help anyone whose forearm hurts when gripping. As always, we recommend consulting with your doctor so that they can assess your individual problem and put you on the best course of treatment.

Related post: how to treat forearm splints

What causes forearm pain when gripping?

Forearm flexor strain and discomfort can be debilitating because we use our lower arms extensively during our everyday lives. So if you have lower or upper forearm pain when gripping, then it might well be as a result of one of these 6 common causes.

Radial tunnel syndrome

Woman with forearm tendonitis

If you have pain on top of your forearm when gripping, then radial tunnel syndrome could be a potential cause.

This injury occurs when the radial nerve at the elbow becomes compressed or pinched. It often results from overuse of the forearms, particularly due to excessive gripping, bending of the wrist, or pinching. [1]

Tennis elbow

Injured tennis player

Tennis elbow, known medically as lateral epicondylitis, could be an issue if you’re experiencing pain in your forearm near the elbow when gripping. You’ll likely experience pain in your upper forearm and on the outside of your elbows, but the discomfort may also radiate down to the back of your hand as well. [2]

If you have tennis elbow, then you might notice that your pain increases with repetitive motions such as gripping, lifting, and rotating your arm.

Forearm tendonitis

Woman with forearm pain

Forearm tendonitis is another possible cause of your discomfort if you’re experiencing pain in your wrist and forearm when gripping. This condition occurs when the tendons of the forearm become inflamed, which may be due to weight lifting or general overuse, among other causes. [3]

Due to the tendons becoming inflamed, you'll notice that your grip is weaker since the pain makes exerting force more difficult. You may also experience a throbbing or burning sensation in your lower arm, especially when using the painful limb.

It’s possible that tendonitis could be confused with painful forearms from fibromyalgia. However, tendonitis is quite common with those who do a lot of computer work and can often be treated with Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE), and/or anti-inflammatory medication.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Man with a painful wrist

When the median nerve of the forearm becomes compressed, tingling, numbness, and aching in your hands and fingers is often the result. These symptoms are sometimes caused by repetitive motions of the hand, such as typing, and from gripping, like when you're holding a mouse. [4]

See our guide on treating and preventing pain in your wrist and forearm from typing for more information if you perform a lot of office work.

Depending on the severity of the condition, it’s possible to treat carpal tunnel syndrome by limiting motions that worsen your pain, by wearing a wrist splint, taking painkillers, and when the pain subsides, by performing hand exercises to strengthen the affected area.

Muscle strain

Man with a painful forearm

If you have pain in your forearm when gripping, then it could be due to forearm pain from weight lifting, which is one of the most common ways to injure a muscle these days. When you try to grip dumbbells and barbells, particularly heavy ones, then you’ll likely feel worsening pain in the affected area.

You may also find that your forearm hurts during pull ups because pulling exercises like chin ups, rows, and deadlifts require a large amount of exertion from your gripping muscles.

The best course of action is rest, first and foremost. Then, as I’ll explain in just a moment, implement the rest of the RICE recovery protocol—ice, light compression, and elevation—where possible.

Overuse injuries

Woman with a wrist injury from using the computer

Many of us are guilty of spending too much time on the computer and similar electronic devices without taking a break. Not only is this practice bad for our eyes, but it can wreak havoc on our wrists and forearms, too, if we’re not careful to nip it in the bud.

The muscles in the lower arm are small and can often cramp up when they don’t receive an adequate break (also see our cramping in forearms guide).

These injuries may be referred to as repetitive strain injuries, but they can also manifest as radial tunnel syndrome, among other conditions.

Read more: forearm pain when doing bicep curls

What to do if your forearm hurts when gripping

If your forearm hurts when gripping, first and foremost, you should stop performing the movements and motions that are causing you pain. From there, the following treatment methods could help to reduce or get rid of your discomfort entirely. Again, their effectiveness depends on the severity of your condition.

RICE

image of people applying the rice treatment method for their forearms

Rest, Ice, Compression, and Elevation (RICE) tackles forearm pain when gripping from 4 angles by first letting the affected area heal naturally. Soon after, it’s recommended to apply ice to the pain site to reduce inflammation.

Wearing a medical bandage around your forearm can also help the injury to heal faster by promoting better blood flow to the damaged part of your forearm.

Keep the affected limb in a slightly elevated position, ideally above your heart, so that any swelling or throbbing is reduced.

Stretching

Man stretching the underside of his forearm

If you have a tight forearm muscle then you might want to read our forearm stretch guide, as it has plenty of stretches for each area of your lower arm. These drills help to loosen up the muscle and reduce cramping, and so they’re handy to perform at work (you can do virtually all of them at your desk).

You can also read our foam roller forearm guide for another way to reduce tightness and lactic acid build-up.

Rehabilitation

Man doing physiotherapy exercise

Forearm rehabilitation drills help to strengthen the affected area once the pain has subsided. By making the muscles more robust, you naturally also make them more equipped to handle tension in the future. This strengthening, in turn, increases their injury resistance.

Talk to your doctor

Physiotherapist holding a client's arm

It’s never a smart idea to rush into rehab if you have forearm pain when gripping because many of the exercises require the use of these very gripping muscle. As such, it’s always best to talk to your doctor so that they can advise you on the proper course of treatment.

Initially, they’ll most likely recommend that you rest your forearm so that any pain that was brought on by repetitive motions can subside.

Read more: forearms hurts while gamingpain in your brachioradialis

Forearm pain when gripping: In conclusion

Having pain in your forearm when gripping can prevent you from working and performing simple everyday actives. Therefore, it's essential to treat any existing symptoms before they turn into a more serious medical condition.

We’ve explored a variety of possible causes for this gripping-induced discomfort and also gone over possible treatment options that may help you on the road to recovery.

References

  1. Radial Tunnel Syndrome: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment. (2015, January 29). Cleveland Clinic. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/15658-radial-tunnel-syndrome
  2. Burton, A. K. (1985). Grip strength and forearm straps in tennis elbow. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 19(1), 37–38. https://doi.org/10.1136/bjsm.19.1.37
  3. Wagner, E. R., & Gottschalk, M. B. (2019). Tendinopathies of the Forearm, Wrist, and Hand. Clinics in Plastic Surgery, 46(3), 317–327. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cps.2019.02.005
  4. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. (2003, December 4). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/pain-management/carpal-tunnel/carpal-tunnel-syndrome#1
  5. Move Well Live Well *Dr Wil & Dr K*. (2018, December 8). Wrist/Forearm Pain While Gripping? It’s Wrist Tendonitis! Do This! | Dr Wil & Dr K [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=czarH1T2Fr8
Liam Brown
Liam Brown has been coaching clients as a personal trainer for more than 12 years. Raised by his athlete mother and physiotherapist father, he understands the critical importance of learning the proper technique for both avoiding injury and building muscle.
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