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What causes tight forearms?

What do you know about your forearms?

The forearms are quite complex structures which may not be apparent from looking at them. Under the skin are a series of small muscles that work your fingers and thumbs as well as helping to move your elbow. The muscles are arranged differently on the top-side and under-side.

On the top are the muscle group that extend your fingers and thumbs so they are collectively known as the extensors.

And on the under-side are the muscle group that flex your fingers and thumbs and these are collectively known as the flexors.

As you can see from the images there are a lot of small muscles tightly packed into these areas both side by side and in layers. On each side many of the muscles converge at the elbow into a common tendon. This means that tension in the muscles here not only causes problems with forearm tightness but also contributes to tennis and golfers elbow (but that’s a whole other blog).

Fascia is also an important part of your forearms

Not shown in these images are the fascial sheaths that also encase each individual muscle. This image goes some way to visualising how deep the fascial connections go.

Fascia encases not just the muscle, but also each muscle fibre (or cell) and each myofibril (the functional elements inside muscle cells that enable movement). Fascia also intertwines into the very structure of all of these elements making it hard in reality to separate muscle from fascia.

Back to the forearms. With so many muscles and so much fascia packed into these tight and confined spaces it is perhaps not surprising that each individual muscle is not very robust. Even when they work as a team, this means that it doesn’t take much to exhaust the flexors and extensors.

What causes forearm fatigue and tightness?

Typical movements performed by the flexors and extensors include repetitive keyboard and scrolling actions, any sports that require gripping (eg weight training or tennis) and many day-to-day hobbies and tasks (eg sewing, painting, gardening or housework). We use our hands all the time and when the actions they do are very repetitive, this causes fatigue in the forearms. Added to this, many activities also involve keeping your elbow bent for prolonged periods, further adding to this fatigue.

As with most of us, when muscles become fatigued they get irritated. Initially this causes symptoms such as a sense of tightness, tenderness and stiffness in your forearms. If you rest then this can go away quite quickly. However performing repetitive actions day in, day out and not allowing time for recovery can lead to a build up of tension inside the muscles and their associated fascia. This can lead to a change in the consistency of the fascia from fluid and elastic to dehydrated and stuck. As the fascia becomes stuck the muscles are less able to do their job and you can lose elasticity in your fingers, thumbs and wrists. People often describe the sensation of their forearms feeling ‘pumped up’ as they become tighter.

Other associated symptoms of tight forearms include nervy type sharp pain, numbness, loss of grip strength and sometimes an inability to grip at all.

What can you do to help your forearms?

From a fascial perspective the issues are never just where you feel the symptoms and a certain amount of tight forearms can be tracked right back to the neck where the arm nerves originate from the spinal cord. However there is a lot you can do for yourself to work with your forearms and alleviate some of the tension that is causing the feeling of tightness. The first and most obvious thing is to have a break – if you can’t stop doing the activity altogether then at least plan in regular short breaks and reduce the problem activity. Myofascial self-help exercises are also an effective way of helping to undo the fascial restrictions that have formed. In our Fascial Fix video we share some simple myofascial exercises for forearms.- okay we admit this video is longer than the advertised 10 minutes…!

 

2 Comments

  1. paula nel

    hi i want to know i had prp in both my arms for tennis elbow the left side are better but right fore arm are stiil very sore is like is to stiff to move i had this done in oct last year can you suggest exersice of treatment
    thanks

    Reply
    • amanda oswald

      Hi if the PRP has not helped then the issue may also be restrictions in your neck and shoulders as well as your forearms. The arm nerves originate in your neck and if the tissues are tight anywhere along the path of the nerves then this can also cause pain such as tennis elbow. For exercises to help I suggest the YouTube video that is lined at the end of this article, or any of the exercise videos on our YouTube channel – Pain Care Clinic. You might also want to find a myofascial therapist near you for some hands-on treatment.

      Reply

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