An Overview of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Radial Tunnel Syndrome (RTS) is a chronic condition caused by pressure on the radial nerve. This nerve runs the entire length of the arm, starting in the armpit and running along the outside of the arm to the hand. At the elbow, the nerve goes through what is called the radial tunnel, a thin space made of bone, muscle, and tendon. RTS can be caused by compression on any point along the length of the radial nerve. However, it is named after injury to the radial tunnel itself, where it is especially common.

Symptoms and Causes of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

RTS is often difficult to diagnose due to its similarity in symptoms to more common conditions such as Tennis Elbow and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Generally, RTS is characterized by dull, aching pain in the elbow or top of forearm, but can sometimes reach down the forearm and into the back of the hand and wrist. Besides pain, symptoms include weakness, tenderness, and tingling. Patients often have difficulty flexing fingers or rotating the wrist, due to the discomfort. The pain often gets worse at night, too.

Common causes of RTS are repetitive motion and overuse of the arm. Routine pushing, pulling, and twisting can cause RTS, often through sports or physically repetitive jobs like manufacturing. Direct injury such as bone fractures or tissue damage can also cause RTS. Some diseases can make you more susceptible to RTS, such as diabetes or low thyroid.

Treatment and Recovery

If diagnosed with Radial Tunnel Syndrome, there are many forms of treatment available. Treatment is normally based on the cause and the severity of the RTS.

If the RTS is caused by repetitive motions, simply removing those motions from daily life can provide relief. Splinting the arm or wearing a wrist brace to limit motion can also be beneficial. To build strength, physical therapy exercises may be added and continued over time. To reduce discomfort, electrical stimulation, icing, and anti-inflammatory medications are often recommended. Corticosteroid injections are often considered as a non-invasive treatment option to relieve pressure on the radial nerve.

Surgical Option

When the above methods fail to work within 4-6 weeks, surgery is an option. Surgical treatments aim to release the points of pressure on the radial nerve by cutting the compressing tissues, often directly at the radial tunnel itself. A week after surgery, patients can begin recovery exercises and continue physical therapy for several months.

Recovery depends on one’s effort to uphold treatment guidelines and prevent opportunity for re-injury. Additionally, maintaining arm strength and properly warming up before exercise decreases risk of RTS. Reducing repetitive activities long-term can lower the odds of re-injury. Regular exams are also recommended to ensure prevention.

If you are injured and you are concerned that you may have radial tunnel syndrome, you should seek diagnosis and treatment from a qualified medical professional like Dr. Stacie Grossfeld. To schedule an appointment with Dr. Grossfeld, call Orthopaedic Specialists at 502-212-2663 today.