Radial Nerve Impingement


Radial Nerve Impingement

Radial nerve entrapment, also known as radial neuropathy, occurs when the radial nerve is compressed or irritated. The radial nerve is a large nerve that runs along the arm, supplying sensation and motor function to the triceps muscle (extends the elbow), wrist extensor muscles (extends the wrist and fingers), and some muscles in the hand. Compression of this nerve can cause a variety of symptoms, affecting movement and sensation in the arm and hand.

Signs and symptoms of radial nerve impingement

Symptoms of radial nerve impingement vary depending on the location of the compression. However, some common symptoms include:

  • Pain: Pain or burning pain in the arm, wrist or hand depending on the affected area. Pain may be aggravated by certain activities that involve wrist extension or arm rotation. 
  • Numbness: Numbness or tingling sensation in the back of the hand, thumb, and index finger, with innervation by the radial nerve. 
  • Dropped hand: In severe cases, prolonged compression can lead to muscle wasting (atrophy) in the hand, causing a characteristic “dropped hand” appearance. 

Radial nerve block can occur : at several locations during

This is the most common site of compression, which occurs at the elbow joint where the nerve passes through the radial tunnel, a narrow space between muscle and bone.

Compression can occur near a muscle called the supinator, which is located in the middle of the forearm.

Less common, this syndrome involves compression within the fibrous tunnel near the elbow.

Compression may be high in the arm, near the armpit.

Regardless of location, compression disrupts the normal function of the radial nerve, causing symptoms such as pain, weakness, and numbness.

What are the Causes & Risk Factor?

Several factors can contribute to radial nerve impingement at different sites:

  • Repetitive motions: Activities that involve repetitive wrist extension or arm rotation, such as weightlifting exercises with poor form, using certain tools (screwdrivers), or playing certain sports (throwing), can cause this condition. 
  • Misuse of crutches: Leaning too much on crutches while putting pressure on the armpit can compress the nerves in the upper arm. 
  • Fracture: A broken bone around the elbow joint can compress the nerve. 
  • Dislocation: Dislocation of the elbow joint can damage surrounding structures and compress nerves. 
  • Tight muscles: Tight muscles in the arm can compress the nerve as it passes through the radial tunnel. 
  • Direct trauma: A blow to the upper arm can damage the nerves near the supinator muscle. 
  • Cast or Splint: Wearing a cast or splint for a long period of time can compress nerves if not applied properly. 
  • Repetitive activities: As with posterior interosseous syndrome, repetitive movements that strain the arm muscles can contribute to compression within the radial tunnel. 
  • Inflammation: Inflammatory conditions around the elbow joint can cause swelling and compression of the nerve. 
  • Sleeping position: Sleeping with your arm bent over your head for long periods of time can put pressure on the nerves in the armpit. 
  • Fractures: Fractures of the humerus (upper arm bone) can compress the nerve near the armpit. 
  • Use of crutches: As mentioned earlier, improper use of crutches can compress the nerves in this area. 
  • Tumors: In rare cases, tumors in the armpit can compress the radial nerve. 

Predisposing factors for radial nerve impingement/ People at risk

Certain factors can increase your risk of developing a radial nerve block in different places:

Diagnosis of radial nerve impingement

Diagnosis of radial nerve impingement usually includes:

  • Location and intensity of pain: Doctors palpate different areas to identify the location and tenderness associated with the pain. 
  • Muscle strength: They will test the strength of your triceps, wrist extensors, and hand muscles. 
  • Sensation: They will assess your sensation in the back of the hand, thumb, and index finger. 
  • Functional tests: Specific tests may be done to assess your ability to extend your elbow, wrist, and fingers. 
  • X-rays: X-rays can help identify bone fractures or arthritis around the elbow joint that are contributing to nerve pressure. 
  • MRI scan: An MRI scan can provide detailed images of soft tissues such as muscles, tendons and ligaments. This can help to see swelling or inflammation around the nerve. 
  • Electromyography (EMG) / Nerve Conduction Studies (NCS): These tests evaluate the electrical activity of the radial nerve and the muscles it controls. They can help confirm nerve damage and determine the severity of nerve compression. 

Treatment options for radial nerve impingement

Treatment for radial nerve impingement depends on the severity of the compression and your individual needs. Here’s an overview of common treatment options:

This is usually the first line of treatment and can be effective in most cases. This may include: 

  • Rest: Avoiding activities that aggravate symptoms, especially those that involve repetitive wrist extension or arm rotation, is critical to early healing. 
  • Ice therapy: Applying an ice pack to the affected area for 15-20 minutes at a time, several times a day can help reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Pain medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help manage pain and discomfort. 
  • Bracing: Wearing a splint or brace to immobilize the wrist or elbow can be helpful in some cases to prevent further nerve irritation. 
  • Physical therapy: Gentle stretching exercises to improve flexibility and prevent muscle tightness around the compressed area. 
  • Nerve Gliding Exercises: Specific exercises to improve nerve mobility and prevent further irritation. 
  • Corticosteroid injection: In some cases, injecting corticosteroids directly into the inflamed area around the nerve can relieve pain. However, repeated injections are not recommended due to possible side effects. 

Surgery for radial nerve impingement is rarely necessary and is usually considered only in severe cases where conservative treatment has failed and symptoms significantly affect daily activities. The type of surgery depends on the location of the compression. This may include: 

  • Decompression surgery: Releasing tight muscles or ligaments that are compressing nerves. 
  • Transposition surgery: In some cases, the nerve can be repositioned to an area with less tightness. 

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