Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Radial Tunnel Syndrome – An Overview

Radial tunnel syndrome is a set of symptoms that are experienced due to undue and constant pressure on the radial nerve near the elbow. This syndrome causes fatigue or a dull pain in the forearm. This is a comparatively rarer condition than carpal tunnel syndrome.

The symptoms are a result of the pressure being caused on the radial nerve, usually around the elbow. The radial nerve is one of the 3 main nerves in the arms. It begins at the neck and continues down to the back of the upper arm. It goes on to the outside of the elbow and down to the forearm and the arm eventually. The radial nerve is situated in the radial tunnel – a tunnel formed by the bone, tendons and muscles, near the elbow.

Signs and Symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

The most common symptom of radial tunnel syndrome is a dull ache felt at the top of the forearm, on the outside of the elbow, or the back of the hand. This pain is mostly felt when straightening the wrists or the fingers.

Radial tunnel syndrome is known to cause weakness and fatigue in the muscles of the forearm as well as weakens the wrist joint. Radial tunnel condition affects the muscles, and not the nerves, so there is no tingling or numbing sensation in the arm, wrist or fingers.

Causes of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Pain is caused near the elbow anytime the radial nerve is pinched. This radial tunnel near the elbow is the most prone spot for the radial nerve to get pinched (squeezed) between the muscles and the fascial bands – the strong connective tissue that holds the muscles and organs together.

Radial tunnel syndrome is also caused as a result of overusing the arm to pull or push. This can be also caused by constant gripping, pinching and bending of the wrist, which can cause irritation to the nerve and result in pain. Repetitive actions or movements at work or while playing sports, may also cause radial tunnel syndrome.

Risk Factors associated with Radial Tunnel Syndrome

There are several risk factors that are known to cause radial tunnel syndrome, such as:

  • Occupation/sports requiring extensive and constant wrist movement
  • Weaker strength and flexibility in the arm
  • Inadequate warm-up before physical activity or sports
  • Diabetes
  • Inhibited thyroid gland
  • Tumors in the arm causing pressure on the nerve
  • Radial nerve inflammation
  • Swelling/fluid accumulation in the arm
  • Injury to the arm 

Diagnosing Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Pain in the hand and the forearm is usually the most common symptom that makes a person consult a doctor. However, there are no specific tests to diagnose radial tunnel syndrome. This makes diagnosing the condition more difficult.

The doctor usually relies on an extensive physical examination as well as the location of the pain to determine the development of radial tunnel syndrome.

Radial Tunnel Syndrome Treatment procedure

The initial treatment for radial tunnel syndrome is resting the affected arm and performing no activities with it. Mostly, rest and medications for around 3-6 weeks is sufficient for relieving the pain in the arm.

These are the treatment methods used for radial tunnel syndrome:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce swelling
  • Steroid injections for reducing pressure and inflammation on the radial nerve
  • Splints on wrist/elbow to reduce irritation to the radial nerve
  • Exercise, physical therapy to decrease the effects of repetitive motion.

The main aim of a radial tunnel syndrome is to prevent the condition from recurring.

The surgical treatment option is rarely used when the other non-surgical treatment methods fail to address the problem. The surgery is performed on an outpatient basis and is usually performed using general anesthesia to the patient. This surgery, known as radial tunnel release, requires the surgeon to divide all the compressive sites within the radial tunnel mainly. This enlarges the space inside the radial tunnel so there is more space for the radial nerves.

The surgeon/doctor will usually advise wearing an elbow splint for around 2-3 days. The patient will be advised light physical therapy and will also have to use ice packs, soft-tissue massage and stretching exercises to restore the treated elbow’s range of motion.

Recovery after Radial Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

There is complete and quick recovery if the patient follows the doctor’s post-treatment instructions diligently. Surgery improves the condition greatly if the non-surgical methods fail to provide relief.

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