What is radial tunnel syndrome?

Radial tunnel syndrome is a set of symptoms that include fatigue or a dull, aching pain at the top of the forearm with use. Although less common, symptoms can also occur at the back of the hand or wrist.

The symptoms are caused by pressure on the radial nerve, usually at the elbow. The radial nerve is one of the three main nerves in the arm. It runs from the neck to the back of the upper arm. Next, it crosses the outside of the elbow and goes down to the forearm and hand. At the elbow, the radial nerve enters a narrow tunnel formed by muscles, tendon, and bone. This is called the radial tunnel.

What are the symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome?

Radial tunnel syndrome causes dull aching pain at the top of the forearm, to the outside of the elbow, or the back of the hand. Patients less often describe the pain as cutting, piercing, or stabbing. It happens most often when the person straightens his or her wrist or fingers.

Radial tunnel syndrome can cause fatigue and weakness in the forearm muscles and weakness in the wrist.

Radial tunnel syndrome affects the muscles, not the nerves, so it does not cause tingling or numbness in the arm, wrist, or fingers.

What causes radial tunnel syndrome?

Any time the radial nerve is pinched anywhere along its length, it can cause pain. The tunnel at the elbow is one of the most common spots the nerve gets pinched or squeezed because it travels between muscle bellies and under facial bands. (Facial bands are tissue fibers that enclose, separate, or bind together muscle, organs, or other soft structures of the body.)

Overuse of the arm to push or pull and overuse of the hand by gripping, pinching, or bending the wrist can irritate the nerve and cause pain. Repeating the same movement, such as twisting the arm or wrist on the job or playing sports, squeezes the radial nerve. Over time, this can cause radial tunnel syndrome.

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