Radial Tunnel Syndrome

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What is Radial Tunnel syndrome?

Radial tunnel syndrome occurs when overuse, injury, or growth puts pressure on the arm’s radial nerve. Someone with this condition can experience pain and may find it difficult to move their forearm or hand.

Radial tunnel syndrome is a medical condition that causes weakness and pain in the forearm or hand, due to a pinched radial nerve. This nerve starts in the armpit and runs down to the hand.

According to the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, the pinch commonly occurs in the elbow because the muscles, tendons, and bones form a tight tunnel that can pinch the nerve.

Symptoms

Symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome can vary, but they commonly include:

  • pain in the forearm, elbow, and hand
  • weakness in the forearm and wrists

The pain is usually a dull ache that occurs on top of the forearm. This can worsen at night or when a person straightens their wrist, elbow, or middle finger.

 

What are the causes?

Causes

Radial tunnel syndrome can develop due to compression anywhere along the length of the radial nerve.

The most common area for this to occur is the elbow, where the nerve passes through a tight space surrounded by muscle, bone, and tendons.

Some common causes include:

  • Arm overuse
  • Movements that pinch the nerve
  • Arm injury
  • Growths
  • Inflammation of the nerve
  • Underlying health conditions, such as thyroid issues or diabetes
  • Swelling in the arm

Non Operative Treatment

People can try several home treatments to reduce the pain from radial tunnel syndrome, and increase strength and range of motion.

These include:

  • using a wrist brace to support the hand and wrist during the day and night
  • using an elbow brace
  • resting the hand and arm, and avoiding activities that worsen the pain
  • taking over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen
  • using ice packs to reduce swelling in the arm, elbow, and hand
  • Download the exercises reconditioning program from our Downloads section

Medical treatments

 One of our doctors may recommend different therapies before they consider surgical options.

According to Winchester Hospital, some treatments may include:

  • physical therapy
  • occupational therapy
  • an exercise program to increase strength and flexibility in the arm
  • steroid medications to reduce swelling
  • hot and cold therapies
  • ultrasound to massage the nerve

Operative treatment

Surgery is often the last resort for radial tunnel syndrome. Prof Imam will only recommend this treatment when other options do not work, or the condition has become severe.

A surgical procedure will aim to increase the space between the muscles, tendons, and bones to reduce pinching, through a technique known as radial tunnel release.

People should talk to their doctor about surgery if other treatments are not effective.

When to see a doctor?

People can consult with a doctor if they experience persistent pains or aches in the forearm, elbow, wrist, or hand. Those who work in labor-intensive jobs or play contact sports should look out for these signs.

Doctors may ask about symptoms and whether the pain worsens with movement. They may also ask about the type of work and sports a person does.

The doctor can perform a physical examination of the arm. They might put gentle pressure on certain areas or check for swelling.

In some cases, they may recommend medical imaging, such as an X-ray or MRI scan. These can help assess any damage to the arms, wrists, or hands.

Summary

Radial tunnel syndrome occurs when the radial nerve becomes pinched or compressed. This nerve runs from the armpit to the hand. Symptoms might include a dull ache or pain in the arm, limited mobility, and weakness.

People who work in a physically demanding job or have an underlying health condition are at a higher risk of radial tunnel syndrome.

Treatments can include a combination of physical therapy and medications to help with symptoms. If people do not respond to these treatments, surgery may be an option.