The radial nerve is one of the three nerves in the arm responsible for providing motor and sensory functions. The radial arm is long – extending from the top of the arm down through the wrist and hand. When the radial nerve becomes compressed, you can develop radial tunnel syndrome, which impacts the extension of the wrist and fingers, as well as outward rotation of the forearm. You have certainly heard about carpal tunnel syndrome, now learn about the lesser-known but still inconvenient and painful condition called radial tunnel syndrome.
As mentioned, radial tunnel syndrome occurs when the radial nerve is compressed and often is associated with injury to the surrounding muscles. Bone fractures, as well as trauma to the soft tissue, can also be responsible for this condition. Overuse or repetitive motion, such as those that occur with certain sports (like tennis) or occupations (like carpentry and painting) can also start to wear down the nerve, causing this condition to occur.
The most prevalent symptom of radial tunnel syndrome is pain that presents on top of the wrist to that extends to the outside of the elbow or the back of the hand. The pain is triggered most frequently when the wrist and fingers are straightened. Lifting heavy objects or extending the elbow inward can also increase pain. Many who have radial tunnel syndrome claim the pain is worse at night, perhaps as a result of a long day of exertion.
Because radial tunnel syndrome often is confused with other conditions, particularly Tennis Elbow or carpal tunnel syndrome, a medical diagnosis by a qualified orthopedist is key. To determine the condition and rule out others, your orthopedist will detail your history and ask about your current and past activities – especially with regard to sports and occupation. Your orthopedist may try to manipulate the arm by extending it or asking you to perform simple tasks. You likely will also be referred for imaging, which may include an X-ray and/or MRI. Being able to explain the nature of the pain, its triggers, and the exact location will help your orthopedist develop the right diagnosis.
Depending on the extent of the diagnosis, your orthopedist may first recommend non-surgical treatment, which may include limiting your activity, icing the area, taking over-the-counter prescription or NSAID (OTC anti-inflammation) medications, and physical therapy. Techniques like dry needling can help, as can bracing the area.
Should non-surgical options fail to bring relief, your orthopedist most likely will recommend surgical procedures, one of which is called surgical decompression. During this procedure, the surgeon releases points of abnormal pressure to allow the nerve to once again function properly. After surgery, expect to undergo physical therapy to regain range of movement and strength. You also will be advised to wear a splint for support.
Physical Therapy in Austin
If you or someone you know has radial tunnel syndrome – or any other acute or chronic pain that can be relieved through physical therapy — contact Endeavor Physical Therapy and Wellness. Our expert providers can show you exercises to gently stretch and strengthen your arm, as well as show you proper techniques to prevent injury or furthering damage to your radial nerve. If your orthopedist does recommend surgery, Endeavor Physical Therapy can provide post-operative care to help you regain arm strength and range of motion. Got pain? Endeavor Physical Therapy is here to help. Call us today at (512) 284-7192 or request an appointment online at one of our convenient locations in the greater Austin area.