What Is Radial Tunnel Syndrome?
Radial tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by sustained pressure on the radial nerve — a nerve that extends across the bones and muscles in the forearm and elbow. This nerve controls movement of the muscles on the back forearm that extend the wrist and fingers, and also provides sensation to the skin covering the forearm and the back of the hand. Increased pressure on a branch of the radial nerve, known as the posterior interosseous nerve, causes deep aching pain in the forearm just beyond the outer elbow. This area can be very tender to the touch and patients can experience weakness from the pain. The symptoms can be very similar to tennis elbow. While living with radial tunnel syndrome can be very challenging and limit everyday movements, our reconstructive hand surgeons offer an array of treatments designed to give you relief from painful symptoms and recover the full range of motion.
Signs & Symptoms
The type and location of symptoms experienced is often used to diagnose radial tunnel syndrome. Signs of the condition are typically indicated by:
- Dull or aching pain at the top of the forearm, elbow, or back of the hand
- Sharp pain when straightening the wrist or fingers
- Fatigue in the forearm muscles
- Weakness in the wrist and forearm muscles
Painful symptoms can arise whenever the radial nerve is pinched across its length. While the nerve extends from the neck all the way to the forearm and hand, this pinching occurs most often at a narrow passageway through the elbow called the radial tunnel. Common motions that can squeeze and irritate the radial nerve include:
- Overuse of the arm by pushing or pulling
- Repetitive gripping or pinching
- Continual bending or twisting of the wrist
Over time, such stressors can cause radial tunnel syndrome. Those who suffer an arm injury, or have a tumor or lump in their arm, can also be placed at a higher risk for developing the condition. Although diagnosing the condition can be difficult, our reconstructive hand surgeons can examine the location and nature of your pain to determine the most appropriate medical treatment to minimize your symptoms.
In many circumstances, medical treatment combined with limitation of the movements that are likely to cause pain can minimize the everyday symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome. Depending on your unique needs, the condition can be treated by conservative approaches, such as:
- Over-the-counter medications
- Steroid injections to reduce inflammation
- Wearing a splint to limit movement of the wrist and/or elbow
- Occupational hand therapy to decrease repetitive motion stress
Should these methods prove ineffective, surgery may be required to create more space for the radial nerve. This may involve making the radial tunnel bigger in order to allow more room for the nerve. After surgery, it is common for patients to temporarily wear a splint, or undergo some degree of physical therapy. Our experienced hand surgeons are committed to creating a personalized treatment plan for your unique condition to help you regain any lost function, and prevent symptoms from returning.