Your radial nerve runs from your neck down the back of your upper arm and then passes outside of the elbow on its way to your forearm and hand. The crossing at the elbow involves a narrow tunnel through which the nerve must pass. Known as the radial tunnel, this is a spot where problems can arise leading to the development of radial tunnel syndrome. (This condition is sometimes called radial nerve compression or radial tunnel entrapment.)
Causes and Effects of Radial Tunnel Syndrome
The pinching of the radial nerve in the radial tunnel is the cause of the problem—and the pinching can be the result of overuse of the arm (pushing, pulling, or both), overuse of the hand (gripping, pinching, or both), and repeated bending or twisting of the wrist.
The result of the radial nerve compression is generally a dull and aching pain felt on the back of the hand, on the outside of the elbow, and/or along the top of the forearm. Radial tunnel syndrome also leads to weakness in the wrist and forearm.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Radial Tunnel Syndrome
To diagnose radial tunnel syndrome, your doctor will perform a physical exam that involves having you attempt to move your arm or hand against resistance while your elbow is straight. Pointing with your middle finger against resistance is also a common test. If you feel pain during either or both of these tests, it is a strong sign that you may be suffering from radial tunnel syndrome.
To treat the problem, your doctor will likely start with conservative treatments that may include over the counter medications that can reduce swelling, applying heat and/or cold, steroid injections, ultrasound treatment, the use of elbow and/or wrist splints, specific exercises, and/or significant periods of rest or change to daily activities.
If none of these approaches relieve the symptoms you are experiencing, it may be time to consider surgery to free the entrapped radial nerve. A skilled peripheral nerve surgeon can perform a radial tunnel release procedure as an outpatient surgery. Full recovery after surgery can take a number of months, but the end result can be freedom from the pain and weakness caused by radial tunnel syndrome.
Dr. Eric H. Williams Can Diagnose and Treat the Problem
Dr. Williams is a skilled peripheral nerve surgeon with the expertise, experience, and compassion necessary to ensure that you receive a proper diagnosis and excellent treatment for radial tunnel syndrome or another peripheral nerve issue. If you are ready to find relief, contact us today.