Radial Tunnel Syndrome

What is it?

The symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome are caused by compression and irritation of the radial nerve in the forearm. This problem is an example of a group of syndromes called compression neuropathies. The most common is carpal tunnel syndrome.

The area of compression is in the upper forearm and on what is commonly called the top of the forearm (the same side of your forearm as the back of your hand).

This syndrome can be caused by overuse or direct injury to the nerve. However, it is common for the symptoms to develop and an exact cause is not known.

What are the symptoms?

The most common symptom is pain in the upper forearm. The pain may radiate down the forearm to the back of the wrist and hand. Unlike other nerve compression syndromes, numbness and weakness are not common symptoms.

The symptoms may be made worse by use of the hand, wrist, and elbow.

How is it evaluated?

This problem is usually diagnosed by your symptoms and a physical examination. There are certain areas of the forearm which are very specifically tender in radial tunnel syndrome. Also putting stress on certain muscle groups can make the symptoms worse and confirm the diagnosis. It is possible to test the function of the radial nerve. However, this test is not as reliable in radial tunnel syndrome as it is in other nerve compression syndromes. The most reliable information is obtained from your doctor examining you and listening to your symptoms.

How is it treated?

After the diagnosis is made, the first step in treatment is identifying activities which make the symptoms worse so that they can be limited. Protective splinting of the elbow and/or wrist can be helpful. Therapy is often used and includes techniques to decrease inflammation around the nerve.

Surgery is possible to decompress the nerve in the forearm. However, for this syndrome it is most common to resolve the problem without surgery. You and your doctor will discuss surgery if your symptoms persist in spite of other treatment.