Why Do My Forearms Hurt When I Curl? Culprit Explained

published by: Debbie Luna
Last Updated:
July 27, 2022

Among the many injuries an exerciser may encounter over their training career, pain in the forearms from or during the performance of the bicep curl is one of the most common - and, fortunately, one of the most easily treatable.

In most cases, forearm pain caused by curling is a chronic injury of the connective tissues, generally presenting as inflammation, tenderness and weakness in or around the forearm muscles that worsens as the exercise is repeated over time.

The first and most effective method of remedying this chronic injury is to simply stop curling until the exerciser may identify the nature and specific cause of their forearm pain, only returning to their performance of the curl exercise once they have taken steps to prevent recurrence of such pain in the future.

Differentiating Bicep Pain, Forearm Pain and Elbow Pain from Curling

In order to begin treating the exerciser’s forearm pain and preventing it from progressing even further, the exerciser must first properly identify that their forearm pain is indeed an injury of the forearms and not of an adjacent bodily structure - as such injuries will require their own set of treatments and modifications that are quite different from forearm pain treatment.

dumbbell bicep curl

Forearm pain caused by tendinopathy or similar chronic injury will most often present as pain, tenderness or inflammation along the center of the forearm, specifically around the distal end of the radius bone near the wrist joint, or at the opposite end of the radius bone where it attaches to the elbow joint, a soft-tissue structure clinically known as the pronator teres.

This is distinct from other chronic injuries caused by the curl movement such as bicep tendinopathy, shoulder impingement or elbow joint tendinitis wherein the pain may radiate from the lower attachment point of the smaller biceps brachii head, the shoulder joint itself or the front of the elbow where the triceps brachii attaches.

If the exerciser is unsure of exactly what sort of injury their pain may be indicative of, they may consult a physician so as to receive more in-depth insights into their condition.

Muscular Structures of the Forearm in Relation to the Curl

Despite the fact that the forearm muscles do not actively execute large dynamic movements during the performance of a curl, they are nonetheless involved to a certain extent, and, in relation, the connective and osseous tissues of the forearm as well.

forearm muscles

In particular, it is the forearm flexor muscles that are activated in an isometric capacity (rarely should they ever be activated dynamically, as this spells out improper form), while the forearm extensor muscles and other nearby muscle groups are activated to an even lesser capacity.

As can be inferred from this, active dynamic contraction of the forearm muscles during a curl is one of the main causes of pain therein. This is visually noticeable as the wrist bending inwards while the exerciser performs a repetition, stressing not only the muscular structures but also the wrist joints as they are placed in a disadvantageous position while under significant resistance.

Kinetics and Mechanics of the Bicep Curl

Being a rather uncomplicated and natural movement, the bicep curl or other kinds of curls does not involve a large number of biomechanical actions or kinetic movements, and as such is relatively simplistic and easy to investigate when searching for the cause of an individual’s forearm pain.

Performance of the bicep curl or similar curl exercises begins with full extension of the elbow joint and thus the entire forearm structure prior to initiation of elbow flexion while under resistance (the object being curled), resulting in recruitment of the biceps brachii in order to adduct the forearm and stabilize the elbow joint.

dumbbell biceps curl

This entire movement, when performed properly, does not involve any contraction of active movement of the wrist as it remains in a neutral position throughout the entire repetition - this is an important point in the treatment of forearm pain, as pronation of the wrist is poor curling form and one of the main causes of chronic forearm pain.

Another important point is that the curl does not involve any sort of shoulder biomechanics outside of passive isometric contraction at the apex of the repetition, as movement of the shoulder such as swinging the object of resistance or raising the elbow away from the side of the torso is also a direct cause of forearm pain and a variety of other injuries.

The Most Likely Cause: Tendonitis of the Forearms

Barring acute injuries sustained by grossly incorrect form, the most likely culprit for the exerciser’s forearm pain during or after curling is that of forearm tendonitis.

Tendonitis is a chronic and progressive condition of the connective tissues surrounding and making up the forearm, generally as a result of repeated and excessive force being applied to said tissues over longer periods of time.

This is frequently seen in improper curl form, wherein the tendons of the forearms are placed in a disadvantageous position and subsequently mechanically stressed as the exerciser loads them with resistance during each curl repetition.

As such, this will result in the hallmark swelling and pain of tendonitis, of which is fortunately quite treatable so long as the exerciser ceases whatever is inducing such a condition and begins rehabilitative work as soon as feasible.

In rare cases, forearm tendonitis may even be caused by simply performing the curl movement far too often, with too much weight or with too little done in terms of recovery. 

Even with perfect curl form, a failure to allow the tissues of the forearm to recover properly will eventually result in injuries and conditions like tendonitis.

How to Treat Forearm Pain From Curling

Once the exerciser has managed to establish that their forearm pain is in fact actually forearm pain caused by curling, they may begin to treat it at home or under the supervision of a medical professional - a decision that must be based on the severity of their tendonitis, as home-derived treatments such as anti-inflammatory medication and stretching routines can only be effective to an extent.

In the event that the pain becomes intolerable, the swelling directly restricts full movement or the exerciser begins to experience other symptoms such as tingling, numbness, excessive weakness or discoloration, they should immediately consult a physician as these symptoms are not indicative of chronic tendonitis alone.

Cessation of Exercise and Standard Recovery Procedures

To begin treating forearm pain from curling, the first step the exerciser must take is to stop performing whatever exercise or movement is causing said pain. 

As we have already established that it is in fact the bicep curl or a similar movement that is causing the exerciser’s forearm tendonitis, they should thereafter avoid performing this exercise or any exercises similar in nature to it.

Once this has been achieved, the exerciser may thereafter follow standard chronic injury recovery methods such as applying ice to the area of injury in order to reduce swelling, elevating the injured limb and the usage of compressive equipment and similar modalities to further aid in recovery.

Compressive Equipment

The usage of compressive equipment such as sleeves, bandage rolls or similar implements can aid in a reduction of swelling and in preventing the exerciser from worsening their condition by directly reducing their total range of motion, thereby allowing the tendons of the forearm to heal without interruption.

This, of course, must be used sparingly and in careful measure, as excessive compression can in fact worsen tendonitis, cause injuries otherwise unrelated to tendonitis or even reduce the total mobility of the tendons themselves, requiring the exerciser to perform additional rehabilitative work in order to return to full mobility.

In order to prevent these problems from occurring, compressive equipment must also be combined with a proper flexibility routine and other forms of rehabilitative methodology in order to remain effective and prevent further progression of the exerciser’s forearm tendonitis.

NSAIDs

NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are among one of the most common over-the-counter pharmaceutical treatments for pain and swelling in relation to bodily injuries, especially in the case of tendonitis.

As such, the usage of such medications like ibuprofen or naproxen sodium in sparing amounts can aid an exerciser in reducing the symptoms they may experience and even aid in accelerating their recovery from forearm tendonitis by reducing swelling and aiding in venous blood flow.

It should be noted however that, despite the clinically established safety of most NSAIDs, they are nonetheless still medications and as such the exerciser should first consult their doctor prior to incorporating such drugs into their forearm pain recovery routine.

In particular, individuals who are pregnant, have a history of kidney or liver conditions or stomach ulcers should entirely steer clear of NSAID usage so as to avoid any untoward incidents from occurring.

Stretching and Rehabilitation Exercises

A major component of forearm pain and subsequent cessation of activity in the injured area is a reduction of mobility in the tendons and nearby joints of the area.

This can easily result in a recurrence of said injury, weakness of the muscles, instability of the joint and a number of other negative effects even if the original condition (being forearm tendonitis) has already been treated.

As such, the exerciser may make use of various mobility techniques such as stretching exercises and low impact rehabilitative exercises in order to retain the full range of motion of their forearm as it recovers from tendonitis.

The structure of this rehabilitative routine and the sort of stretches and exercises included in it will depend on the severity of the exerciser’s tendonitis, the presence of any co-occurring injuries and the advice of a physician - making these factors variable on a case by case basis.

A rather safe bet in this regard, however, is the usage of slow static stretches of the soft forearm tissues such as wrist extensions, forearm pronation and supination drills or wrist flexion stretches.

How Long Does Forearm Pain From Curling Take to Heal?

So long as it is solely tendonitis of the forearms that is causing the exerciser’s symptomatic pain, they can expect to be mostly recovered within two to four weeks, though more extreme cases can warrant a greater length of recovery time, or if the exerciser has not properly followed rehabilitative procedure.

Proper rest, compression, adequate diet and being of a younger age can all accelerate this time table - though one should not solely rely on any of these factors to directly heal their forearm tendinitis.

Preventing Occurrence or Reoccurrence of Forearm Injuries From Curling

In order to prevent curl-related forearm injuries such as tendinitis from returning or even occurring in the first place, the exerciser should stick to several key points in their training that will prevent such chronic conditions from being developed.

First and foremost, the exerciser must follow correct curling form wherein the wrist does not bend inward throughout the repetition, the elbow remains relatively fixed in place and no swinging of the shoulder or torso is occurring.

By extension, the exerciser should strive to maintain a moderate level of intensity and resistance as they go about performing these repetitions, keeping the weight at a challenging but not excessive amount and only performing a reasonable number of repetitions per set.

One other factor they must pay attention to is in their recovery, with adequate sleep, protein intake and the usage of warm-ups and mobility routines all acting as highly effective preventions to the development or reoccurrence of forearm pain caused by exercise.

Barring acute injuries caused by human error or unforeseen circumstances, following these rules in the exerciser’s training will not only help prevent forearm tendonitis, but also improve their training results as well; thereby resulting in greater muscle mass, more weight lifted and improved general health.

References

1. Oliveira LF, Matta TT, Alves DS, Garcia MA, Vieira TM. Effect of the shoulder position on the biceps brachii emg in different dumbbell curls. J Sports Sci Med. 2009 Mar 1;8(1):24-9. PMID: 24150552; PMCID: PMC3737788.

2. Biscarini, Andrea, Rita Borio, Francesco Coscia, Giovanni Mazzolai, S. Simonetti and Gabriella Rosi. “Biomechanics of dumbbell/barbell and cable biceps curl exercises.” (2005).

3. Kasim Serbest. A Biomechanical Analysis of Dumbbell Curl and Investigation of the Effects of Increasing Loads on Biceps Brachii Using A Finite Element Model, 02 February 2022, PREPRINT (Version 1) Retrieved from  Research Square [https://doi.org/10.21203/rs.3.rs-1263844/v1]

4. Thorson E, Szabo RM. Common tendinitis problems in the hand and forearm. Orthop Clin North Am. 1992 Jan;23(1):65-74. PMID: 1729670.

Debbie (Deb) started powerlifting and Olympic lifting in High School as part of her track team's programming; She continues to train in order to remain athletic. Inspire US allows Deb to share information related to training, lifting, biomechanics, and more.
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