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Let’s Get in the Right Place: The forearm
The forearm is the part of your body between your elbow and your wrist. It is not to be confused with the “the arm” which is used to describe everything from the shoulder to the tips of the fingers.
The forearm has two long bones: the radius and ulna. Some muscles of the forearm act on the elbow and help it to move, and other muscles assist with movement of the wrist.
Upper Arm Muscles that Cross the Elbow
Muscles that originate somewhere in the bones of the upper arm and cross the elbow joint to insert somewhere in the bones of the forearm will assist movements in the forearm and, obviously, the elbow.
The forearm works hard to move the elbow and the wrist. (If you have forgotten the meaning for the terms flexion, extension, supination, and pronation, refer to the Dictionary of Common Fitness Terms or Planes of Movement.)
Some of the muscles that help move the elbow are:
- Biceps brachii: flexes the elbow and supinates the forearm.
- Brachialis: A very strong flexor that works closely with the biceps.
- Brachioradialis: It assists in elbow flexion and stabilizes the elbow.
- Triceps brachii: An important muscle for elbow extension.
- Anconeus: Assists the triceps in elbow extension.
Wrist and Forearm Flexors and Pronators
There are several muscles which assist the forearm to turn the wrist in several ways. Their names are dead giveways to their jobs.
- Pronator Teres: Allows the forearm to turn the palm down (pronate).
- Flexor Carpi Radialis: Based on its name, its function is obvious. It flexes the wrist and also assists in elbow flexion.
- Flexor Carpi Ulnari: Another name give-away. Flexes the wrist and assists in adduction of the hand.
- Pronator Quadratus: Glory be! This little guy pronates the forearm! ;-)
- Extensor Carpi Radialis Longus: Extends and abducts the wrist. (But you already knew that, right?)
- Extensor Carpi Ulnaris: Extends the wrist and assists in adduction. (Remember, the name is a give-away.)
- Supinator: Works with biceps brachii to supinate (palm up) the forearm but it can work alone, too.
Some Wrist Injuries
Wrists can be sprained and this is the most likely cause of discomfort if there is no evidence of bone injury. With a sprain, there is usually only a partial tearing of the ligaments. In a severe sprain, however, there can be a complete tear.
Wrists can be fractured or broken.
Wrists can be strained if there is a tearing of the muscle fibers in the area surrounding the wrist.
Probably the most common, repetitive motion injury of the wrist is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
Strains and sprains can often be fixed with rest, ice, and pain killers. Sometimes doctors will apply a splint if they feel it is necessary. Broken or fractured bones are more likely to require immobilization. In repetitive injuries such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome 2, the repetitive motion has to end and sometimes surgery is required. In all cases, if the problem does not go away within 24-48 hours, you should see your doctor.
Some Elbow Injuries
Like wrists, elbows can be injured in many ways: sprains, fractures, and sprains are common. The elbow can also be dislocated.
Common repetitive injuries in the elbow occur in some sports, particularly golf and tennis.
As with all injuries, some can be treated with immobilization, rest, and ice. However, repetitive injuries such as tennis elbow usually require medical attention. If the problem does not go away within 24-48 hours, you should see your doctor.
An Exercise for the Forearm & Wrist
A good simple exercise for the forearm is the wrist curl with light free weights. Use your thighs for support and while sitting, place the wrists just over the knee. With Palms up, you can lift the wrists up and down. With palms down, you can do the same thing. Repeat as many times as you feel comfortable with (usually 8-12) and rest between sets.
Strengthening Exercises for the Forearm & Elbow
Try one of these very simple exercises for elbow strengthening:
- While standing up, hold a dry washcloth in your hands and twist it back and forth as if you were wringing it out.
- Place palms together in front of you and simple push your hands together. Do not stop breathing.
- Sit in a straight-backed chair. Place your hands on the sides of the chair and lift yourself up no more than 5 mm. Hold and lower yourself. (Caution: If you have weak wrists or weak elbows, this is not a good exercise to try!)
For articles about other muscles, see:
- The Abdominals
- The Adductors and Abductors: Muscles in the Thigh
- The Deltoids: The Shape of the Shoulder
- The Erector Spinae: Spine Muscles
- The Glutes
- The Hamstrings: Back of the Thigh
- The Hip Flexors
- Latissimus Dorsi: The Lats
- The Lower Leg: The Calf and the Shin
- Muscle Cramps and Other Injuries
- Muscles of the Head
- The Muscular System: How it Works
- Opposing Muscles
- Pectoralis Major and Minor: The Pecs
- The Quadriceps: The Front of the Thigh
- Taking Care of your Feet
- The Trapezius and the Rhomboids
- The Upper Arm: The Biceps and the Triceps
I am a BCRPA-certified fitness instructor in Vancouver, BC. I teach four classes at the West End Community Centre in Vancouver, BC, mostly designed for the older adult. The Inevitable Disclaimer: Everything published here expresses only my opinion, based on my training and research. What you do with the information is entirely your own responsibility. I am not liable for any injury you suffer that seems to be related to anything you read here. Always consult your doctor before beginning an exercise program. For other articles, return to the table of contents.
These three dots behave exactly like a footnote. Click on them and you will get more information about the topic. ↩
Carpal Tunnel syndrome is a painful condition of the hand and fingers caused by compression of a major nerve where it passes over the carpal bones through a passage at the front of the wrist, alongside the flexor tendons of the hand. It may be caused by repetitive movements over a long period, or by fluid retention, and is characterized by sensations of tingling, numbness, or burning. ↩