What is Radial Tunnel Syndrome?

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Radial Tunnel Syndrome, also known as Radial Nerve Entrapment, is a condition that occurs when the radial nerve that runs beside the bones and muscle of the forearm and elbow becomes compressed.

The increased pressure on the radial nerve can cause pain in the lateral aspect of the elbow, and down the forearm and into the hand. It can also result in a tingling sensation in the forearm and hand. Weakness in the forearm and wrist are also characteristic symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome.

While this condition is usually caused by repetitive, forceful motion such as pushing or pulling, or twisting with the hand, in some cases direct injury to the outside of the elbow can also cause Radial Tunnel Syndrome.

Who Is at Risk for Developing Radial Tunnel Syndrome?

Those who have an occupation that requires repetitive tasks may be at an increased risk of developing Radial Tunnel Syndrome. Those who work in construction or manufacturing may be more likely to develop this condition due to the repetitive movements that are required in this type of work.

What Are the Symptoms?

Radial Tunnel Syndrome is characterized by pain in the forearm that generally centers a few inches below the elbow.

Some of the symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome include:

  • Pain that worsens when rotating the wrist
  • Outer elbow tenderness
  • Decreased ability to grip
  • Loss of strength in the forearm, wrist, and hand
  • Difficulty extending wrist

How Is Radial Tunnel Syndrome Treated?

There are a variety of treatment options that can be used to treat Radial Tunnel Syndrome.

The first step is usually an EMG (electromyography) or a nerve conduction study to diagnose this condition. Depending on the extent of the damage, nonsurgical treatments or surgery may be recommended. Non-surgical treatments are usually recommended as a first step towards addressing this condition, and in many cases, conservative methods prove to be effective.

Conservative Treatments

  • Rest – The most important way to treat Radial Tunnel Syndrome is to avoid repetitive motion that caused the condition in the first place. Depending on your occupation, this may involve modifying your work duties or taking more frequent breaks. In some cases, immobilization with a splint or cushioning of the nerve with an elbow pad are used to facilitate healing.
  • Physical Therapy – A physical therapist can provide soft tissue massage, which can help to improve circulation to the area. They might also recommend gentle stretching and strengthening exercises.
  • Corticosteroid Injections – Corticosteroid injections can help reduce the pressure that is put on the radial nerve, and help reduce inflammation.
  • Medications – Pain medications or anti-inflammatory medication can help with the inflammation and pain, although this is usually a temporary measure to alleviate symptoms.
  • Hot / Cold Treatment – Hot/cold treatment involves applying cold (ice) to your injury for 10-15 minutes every 2 or 3 hours. Heat treatment is sometimes used before stretching or physical therapy to help make your muscles more flexible.

With conservative treatment options, you should start to notice an improvement within 4-6 weeks. If symptoms continue after this point, surgery may be considered.

Surgical Treatment

In more severe cases, surgery may be required to reduce pressure on the nerve. Surgery for radial tunnel syndrome is often used only when other treatment options have been exhausted.

The goal of surgery is nerve decompression by division of fascial bands. During surgery, tissue that is compressed against the radial nerve will be cut and the pressure reduced.

As with most injuries, prevention is the best medicine. It’s important to take frequent breaks when twisting the forearm, extending the wrist or gripping to prevent an overuse injury from occurring. It is also recommended that you have routine examines to ensure that you aren’t putting too much strain on your muscles and nerves.

 

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