Radial tunnel syndrome is a condition that typically affects the top of the forearm, but can also, in rarer cases, affect the wrist or back of the hand.
Radial tunnel syndrome is caused by excessive pressure being placed upon the radial nerve, typically in the elbow.
Because the radial nerve runs from the neck to the upper arm, then goes across the outside of the elbow and down the forearm, symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome can occur in any area where the nerve is, but pain is typically limited to the forearm.
Radial tunnel syndrome is similar to cubital tunnel syndrome in that it is caused by excessive pressure on a specific nerve in the arm.
The main difference between radial tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome is that it is a different nerve under pressure, thus the symptoms tend to occur in a different area of the arm.
What are the Symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome?
The most common symptom of radial tunnel syndrome is a dull pain located around the top of the forearm, but can be extended to the outside of the elbow or even the back of the hand.
The pain is often described as very dull by patients, as opposed to more sharp, or stabbing, pains.
Another major symptom of radial tunnel syndrome is weakness and/or fatigue in either the forearm, the wrist, or both.
Unlike cubital tunnel syndrome, radial tunnel syndrome mostly affects the muscles rather than the nerve itself, so there is rarely numbness or tingling involved.
Instead, radial tunnel syndrome causes pain and weakness in the muscles in the arm.
What Causes the Symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome?
Pain is caused when the radial nerve is pinched due to extra pressure being placed upon it for one reason or another.
People who suffer from radial tunnel syndrome have typically overused their arms for the purposes of pushing or pulling, or when their hands are overused in trying to grip objects. Constant bending of the wrist can also cause radial tunnel syndrome.
Similar to other familiar syndromes, athletes tend to be more prone to radial tunnel syndrome. Any sport or job that involves the wrist or arm being twisted constantly will, over time, pinch the nerve and lead to more severe radial tunnel syndrome symptoms.
How to Treat Radial Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
There are a number of ways to treat the symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome and to deal with the discomfort.
Over the counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID) can work to reduce the inflammation and relieve some of the pain associated with the pressure placed upon the nerve.
An athlete might get a regular steroid injection in order to relieve the inflammation and pressure on the nerve. Wrist and elbow splints can also help to reduce the pressure placed upon the nerve.
The most optimal, and typically the preferred, way of treating radial tunnel syndrome is proper exercise and trying different ways of reducing the stress of repetitive motion.
Rather than taking over the counter drugs every time the symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome are felt, heat and ice might be a better option.
Should Patients Seek Surgery in Severe Cases?
Surgery for radial tunnel syndrome is actually a very rare occurrence. If your doctor is recommending surgery, it could be likely that actual damage to the nerve has occurred rather than simply there being pressure on it.
Surgery for radial tunnel syndrome often includes expanding the radial tunnel so that there is more room for the nerve and less pressure on it. The surgery is typically an outpatient procedure, so the patient can expect to be sent home the same day.
The obvious downside of surgery is that it can take some time to recover, and strength will have to be rebuilt in the arm.
The plus side of surgery is that patients typically have a full recovery, and the primary goal after surgery would be to avoid re-injuring the same arm.
If you believe surgery to be your best option, you should consult your doctor in order to make certain that there are not better ways of relieving the pain of suffering from radial tunnel syndrome.
Getting Diagnosed and Managing the Pain
If you are suffering from regular pain or fatigue in your forearm or wrists, it is very important to speak to your doctor in order to determine whether or not you are suffering from radial tunnel syndrome.
If your physician does diagnose you with radial tunnel syndrome, you can then discuss with him or her what your best options for relieving the pain are.
In most cases, proper exercises and training to reduce the amount of pressure put on the nerve from repetitive motion, along with heat or ice when the pain rears its ugly head, is your best bet for managing the symptoms.
Most people would prefer not to take over the counter medications regularly for pain, but if it is not an everyday thing, that is also an option.
If you do not respond to these more conservative treatments, it might then be time to explore surgery as an option. Your doctor will be able to explain whether or not that is the best option for you.
Grinding Through the Pain
Just as with similar syndromes, the pain that comes from radial tunnel syndrome can feel unbearable at times, but the good news is that it is very treatable.
Heat and ice often help immediately, and over the counter anti-inflammatory medications can also help you get through when the pain is really bad.
In most cases, it is preferable to treat the symptoms with heat or ice when needed, and attempt to condition your arm so that the repetitive motion does not continue to put as much pressure on the radial nerve.
This is, of course, assuming that you cannot avoid such repetitive motions to begin with.
However bad your symptoms may be, discuss your options with your doctor in order to successfully manage the pain and relieve the symptoms.