Radial Tunnel Syndrome
(Radial Nerve Entrapment)
Radial tunnel syndrome happens when there is abnormal pressure on the radial nerve. This can cause pain and weakness in the arm and hand.
The radial nerve controls muscles of the forearm. It starts under the armpit and runs down the arm. It passes through a tunnel at the elbow. This tunnel is surrounded by tendons and muscles. Certain movements or overuse of the forearm can shrink the tunnel. This can irritate and press on the nerve.
An injury or abnormal growth can also increase pressure on the nerve.
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Things that may raise the risk of radial tunnel syndrome are:
- Having a small radial tunnel
- Jobs or sports that overuse the:
- Arm to twist, push, or pull
- Hand to grip, pinch, or bend at the wrist
- Poor arm and wrist strength
- Tumors or cysts that put pressure on the nerve
- A buildup of fluid in the arm
Problems may be:
- An ache in the forearm that may spread to the hand or outside of the elbow
- Weakness of the wrist and forearm
The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. Questions may also be asked about the activities that the person does. A physical exam will be done. It will focus on the arm. This is often enough to make the diagnosis.
It will take 3 to 6 weeks to heal. Any underlying causes will need to be treated.
The goal of treatment is to ease pain and promote healing. This will mean avoiding activities that are causing pain. Treatment may also include:
- Supportive care, such as warm or cold compresses
- Medicine to ease pain and swelling, such as:
- Over the counter pain relievers
- Steroid injections
- Wearing a splint to limit movement
- Physical therapy to help with strength, flexibility, and range of motion
People who are not helped by these methods may need surgery. The goal of surgery is to make the radial tunnel bigger to ease pressure on the nerve.
To lower the risk of radial tunnel syndrome:
- Avoid repetitive movements
- Slowly increase the intensity and duration of activity
- Use the right techniques and equipment for sports and activities
- Get regular physical activity to keep arm muscles strong
- Lateral elbow tendinopathy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/lateral-elbow-tendinopathy.
- Radial tunnel syndrome. Cleveland Clinic website. Available at: http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/orthopaedics-rheumatology/diseases-conditions/hic-radial-tunnel-syndrome.
- Teresa Briedwell, PT, DPT, OCS
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