What Causes Radial Tunnel Syndrome & What Are The Treatment Options

The top part of the forearm where muscles overlap is known as the radial tunnel. Inside this tunnel, the radial nerve splits into two branches: one branch for feeling and the other for controlling forearm muscles.

So, “What causes the radial tunnel syndrome?” nerve compression. Let’s address some main triggers and how to deal with them.

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What Is the Main Cause of Radial Nerve Compression?

Long-term or repeated squeezing of the wrist (like from a tight watch strap). Long-lasting pressure on the nerve, usually because nearby body parts are swollen or injured. Pressure on the upper arm is caused by how your arms are positioned during sleep or coma.

Radial Tunnel Anatomy

The radial tunnel goes from the radial head to the bottom of the supinator muscle. It’s bordered by the supinator, extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis, and brachioradialis muscles.

Radial Tunnel Syndrome Pain Location

Radial tunnel syndrome is a condition we should think about when someone has pain in their elbow and forearm. It’s diagnosed if there’s pain on the outside of the elbow and the top of the forearm, which might spread to the wrist and the back of the fingers. This condition is more common in women between the ages of 30 and 50.

Symptoms

Symptoms of this condition can include:

  • Deep pain in the back or top of the forearm
  • Dull or burning pain in the forearm
  • Pain that can go from near the elbow down to the wrist
  • Pain when turning the forearm
  • Pain when straightening the wrist
  • Pain that might be worse at night or the day after using the arm
  • Feeling like the wrist is weak because of the pain.

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Radial Tunnel Syndrome Vs Tennis Elbow

In tennis elbow, the pain begins where the tendon connects to the outer part of the elbow bone. However, in radial tunnel syndrome, the pain is focused about two inches lower on the arm, where the radial nerve passes beneath the supinator muscle.

Diagnosis

Radial tunnel syndrome can easily be mistaken as tennis elbow. Therefore, the symptoms you have mentioned, combined with the doctor’s findings during the physical exam, help figure out the diagnosis.

There aren’t specific tests just for radial tunnel syndrome, but tests like electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCS) can be done to check for other issues. Sometimes, an MRI can be done to see if there’s anything pressing on the nerve.

Injections around the nerve can also help diagnose and treat the problem. These injections usually contain a pain-relieving medicine. If the pain goes away temporarily after the injection, it helps confirm the diagnosis. Steroid injections can also help reduce swelling in some cases.

Radial Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

Both surgical and non-surgical treatments are available for radial tunnel syndrome. Your orthopedic doctor or surgeon can discuss them with you in detail based on the diagnosis.

Non- Invasive Treatments

  • Painkillers like ibuprofen or aspirin.
  • Wearing a radial tunnel syndrome splint on the wrist.
  • Change in previous activities.
  • Putting ice or heat on the area.
  • Do not use tight straps on the forearm.
  • Getting injections of anti-inflammatory drugs.
  • Doing exercises with a therapist.

Surgical Treatments

There are different surgical methods when conservative treatments fail, but one common approach involves making a cut in the forearm muscles to give the nerve more space.

The surgeon will then release any pressure on the nerve. This surgery is usually done as an outpatient procedure.

Sometimes, surgeons will also treat tennis elbows during the same surgery if they are present.

Recovery can take three to six months, and therapy can help muscles and nerves heal and prevent scarring.

Studies have found that surgery only brings modest improvements for patients. Around 60-80% of patients have good results, but many still have some ongoing symptoms.

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Closing Note

Anything wrong with a super useful joint like the elbow can put a full stop to our daily routines. The good news is that there are plenty of ways to avoid elbow injuries. Knowing “What causes radial tunnel syndrome?” can help you do it.

If you have already fallen prey to an elbow condition, visit Dr. Cusick at Michael C. Cusick, M.D. Our board-certified orthopedic surgeon has performed many shoulder and elbow replacements, including revision surgeries. Dial (713) 794-3599 to reach out.

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