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Forearm Muscle Strain(Muscle Strain, Forearm; Pulled Muscle, Forearm)

Pronounced: FOR-arm MUSS-el str-AY-n

Definition

A forearm muscle strain is a partial or complete tear of the small fibers of the forearm muscles. Forearm muscles allow you to extend and flex your wrist and fingers.

It is a common injury in sports. It is also common in people who work in jobs with repetitive keyboard motions. Treatment depends on the severity of the strain.

Muscles of the Hand and Forearm

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Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Causes

A forearm muscle strain is caused by:

  • Stretching the forearm muscles beyond the amount of tension they can withstand
  • Suddenly putting stress on the forearm muscles when they are not ready for stress
  • Overusing the forearm muscles over time
  • Getting a direct blow to the forearm muscles
Risk Factors

Factors increase your chance of developing forearm muscle strain include:

  • Participation in sports that overuse the forearm
  • Previous strain or injury to the area
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Weak or tired muscles
  • A job that requires repetitive movements that strain the forearm muscles
Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Problems flexing your fingers or wrist
  • Pain while stretching the fingers or wrist
  • Area feels tender and sore
  • Muscle spasms
  • Swelling
Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Most forearm muscle strains can be diagnosed with a physical exam.

Your doctor may want images of the area if severe damage is suspected. Images may be taken with x-ray or MRI.

Muscle strains are graded according to their severity:

  • Grade 1—Some stretching with micro tearing of muscle fibers.
  • Grade 2—Partial tearing of muscle fibers.
  • Grade 3—Complete tearing of muscle fibers. This may also be called a rupture or avulsion.
Treatment

Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Recovery time ranges depending on the grade of your injury. Treatment steps may include:

Acute Care
Rest

Your muscle will need time to heal. Avoid activities that place extra stress on these muscles:

  • Do not do activities that cause pain.
  • Do not play sports until your doctor has said it is safe to do so.
Cold

Apply an ice or a cold pack to the area for 15-20 minutes, four times a day, for several days after the injury. Do not apply the ice directly to your skin. Wrap the ice or cold pack in a towel.

Pain Relief Medications

To manage pain, your doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter medication, such as aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen
  • Topical pain medication—creams or patches that are applied to the skin
  • Prescription pain relievers
Compression

Compression can help prevent more swelling. Your doctor may recommend an elastic compression bandage around your forearm. Be careful not to wrap the bandage too tight.

Elevation

Elevation can also help keep swelling down. Keep your arm higher than your heart as much as possible for the first 24 hours or so. A couple of days of elevation might be recommended for severe strains.

Recovery Steps
Heat

Use heat only when you are returning to physical activity. Heat may then be used before stretching or getting ready to play sports to help loosen the muscle.

Stretching

When the acute pain is gone, start gentle stretching as recommended. Stay within pain limits. Hold each stretch for about 10 seconds and repeat six times. Stretch several times a day.

Strengthening

Begin strengthening exercises for your muscles as recommended.

If you are diagnosed with a forearm muscle strain, follow your doctor's instructions.

Prevention

To help reduce your chance of getting forearm muscle strain, take the following steps:

  • At work, use an ergonomic keyboard or workstation.
  • Keep muscles strong. This will help them absorb the energy of sudden stressful activities.
  • Avoid over exercising.
  • Learn the proper technique for sports.
  • If you are feeling tired, stop exercising.

RESOURCES:

American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor
http://www.aafp.org

American Council on Exercise
http://www.acefitness.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Physiotherapy Association
http://www.physiotherapy.ca

Canadian Academy of Sports Medicine
http://casem-acmse.org

References:

Dawson, WJ. Intrinsic muscle strain in the instrumentalist. Med Prol Perform Artists. 2005;20:66-69.

Johns Hopkins sports medicine patient guide to muscle strain. John Hopkins Medicine website. Available at: http://www.hopkinsortho.org/muscle_strain.html. Accessed April 26, 2013.

Sprains, strains, and tears. American College of Sports Medicine website. Available at: http://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/sprains-strains-and-tears.pdf. Accessed April 26, 2013.

What is Occupational Therapy? American Occupational Therapy Association website. Available at: http://aota.org/Consumers.aspx. Accessed April 26, 2013.

10/26/2010 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php: Massey T, Derry S, Moore R, McQuay H. Topical NSAIDs for acute pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2010;(6):CD007402.



Last reviewed February 2014 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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