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Radial tunnel syndrome occurs due to an injury to the radial nerve. It can cause pain along the top of your forearm and hand. Treatment can include rest, occupational therapy, and in some cases, surgery.

Radial tunnel syndrome can cause pain and weakness in your arm. The condition is caused by injury to your radial nerve. It can make everyday activities like lifting objects or using your wrist difficult.

But radial tunnel syndrome can be treated quickly. With the right treatment, your arm may be pain-free again in about a month.

Radial tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes pain along the top of your forearm and in your hand. It’s caused by pressure on a nerve in your arm called the radial nerve.

Your radial nerve starts in your neck and runs down your arm. It controls the movement of the muscle in your upper arm, called the tricep.

The radial tunnel is an area below your elbow. Your radial nerve enters this tunnel of muscle and bone and then travels down to your wrist.

When your radial nerve is pinched anywhere in your arm, it can cause pain and weakness. The pinching is the result of some common daily activities.

You can irritate your radial nerve any time you use your arm muscles to move objects by:

  • pulling
  • pushing
  • grabbing

Using your hands and wrists can also irritate your radial nerve. For example, when you repeatedly perform certain motions for your job or a hobby you do regularly, it can lead to overuse and radial tunnel syndrome.

Pain and weakness in your forearm are the telltale symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome. Other symptoms include:

  • pain on the back of your hand
  • pain that’s located just below your elbow
  • pain that gets worse when you rotate your wrists
  • pain that gets worse when you extend your fingers
  • tenderness on the outside of your elbow
  • difficulty gripping objects
  • trouble lifting or pushing objects
  • difficulty extending your wrist

Not everyone with radial tunnel syndrome will have all the same symptoms. Some people will have mild symptoms and others will have more severe symptoms.

If you’ve had any of the symptoms listed above, it’s a good idea to discuss them with a medical professional. They’ll be able to determine if your symptoms are caused by radial tunnel syndrome or a different condition.

To find out if you have radial tunnel syndrome, you’ll need be examined by a medical professional.

During your appointment, they will ask you some questions about your pain. Since radial tunnel syndrome is caused by repetitive motions, they might also ask you about your work and hobbies.

Physical resistance

There are a few tests the medical professional will perform to see what actions cause you pain.

You might be asked to use your arm and hand to push against resistance without bending your elbow or use your middle finger to push against resistance. Pain while doing either of these movements is a symptom of radial tunnel syndrome

Electromyography (EMG)

In some cases, you might have a test called electromyography (EMG). An EMG lets doctors see how well your muscles and nerves are working, including your radial nerve.

An EMG has two parts — a nerve conduction study and a needle EMG.

During the nerve conduction study, electrodes are placed on the skin of your arm to measure how well your radial nerve and tricep muscles are communicating.

For the needle EMG part of the test, a needle will be used to insert electrodes into your arm muscle. These electrodes will measure the electrical activity of your muscle.

You’ll be diagnosed with radial tunnel syndrome If the results of your EMG show that your pain is caused by an injury to your radial nerve in the radial tunnel.

There are several treatment options for radial tunnel syndrome.

Where to start

Your doctor may try less invasive treatments first to see if they help with your symptoms. Your treatment plan will likely start with:

  • rest from the activity causing your radial tunnel syndrome for 3 to 6 weeks
  • over-the-counter medicines (OTC), such as ibuprofen, that can reduce your pain
  • wrist or elbow splints
  • physical or occupational therapy

The doctor will also help you figure out how to cut down on the motions that caused your radial tunnel syndrome. These might include:

  • taking more breaks during your workday
  • avoiding heavy push and pull motions
  • stretching before engaging in sports

Next steps

If your pain is more severe, you might also receive steroid injections in your arm. Steroid injections can reduce the swelling in your arm muscles and relieve the pressure on your radial nerve.

The goal of your treatment will be to prevent pain from coming back. Your doctor might recommend that you continue wearing a splint at night even after your pain has stopped.

Physical therapy to help strengthen your arm muscles can also be helpful.

In some cases, you may want to consider talking with your employer to see if they can provide accommodations, or even that you switch out some job duties to reduce certain repetitive motions.

Surgical treatment

For many people, the above treatments are enough to alleviate symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome. However, others may not feel any pain relief from these standard treatments. In this case, you might need surgery.

During radial tunnel surgery, a surgeon will widen your radial tunnel. This will relieve the pressure on your radial nerve and allow it more space.

It can take 6 to 8 months to fully recover from radial tunnel surgery. You’ll need to wear an elbow splint and keep your arm wrapped. Recovery from surgery typically includes rest and physical therapy. During your first week, you’ll begin with:

  • small exercises
  • massages
  • stretching

After about 6 weeks, you’ll add exercises that will help you regain strength in your arm and hand. Eventually, you’ll begin exercises that will strengthen your wrist and elbow.

You won’t be allowed to lift or do any activities that require you to bend your elbow. Your physical therapist and surgeon will let you know what activities are safe for you to perform and when.

Radial tunnel syndrome is typically very treatable. Many people make a complete recovery within 3 to 6 weeks.

It’s very important to follow any instructions you’re given, including any lifestyle changes. Following instructions will prevent you from injuring your radial nerve again in the future.

If you need surgery, you might still experience some mild pain from time to time. However, most of your symptoms may improve.

Radial tunnel syndrome is a condition that happens when your radial nerve is pinched. This condition is normally caused by repeated arm and wrist motions.

Radial tunnel syndrome can be easily treated for most people. Pain is often treated with rest and OTC medicine. You might also wear a split or receive steroid injections.

Some people may need surgery to relieve the pain, but this is much less common.