Radial nerve extends from the upper arm and runs its course to the forearm, wrist and fingers. It is responsible for movements of muscles present at the back of arm called triceps. The motor function of radial nerve allows the wrist and fingers to bend backwards. It is also involved in controlling sensation at back of hand.
Damage or injury to radial nerve at various levels can produce host of symptoms that may affect daily activity of a person. Few symptoms are temporary while some of them are long standing. The cause of damage is as simple as sleeping in awkward position to more concerning such as fracture of bones of arm and forearm or wrist joint.
Rest, ice fomentation, physiotherapy exercise and lastly surgical repair are treatment options to reverse the effect of damage to the radial nerve.
What Causes Radial Nerve Damage?
Radial neuropathy is very common. The nerve can be damaged due to several reasons. It can be direct injury to the nerve from a sharp piercing object or the nerve can be entrapped at certain point from where it passes. Radial nerve can be injured with fracture of humerus; the bone in upper arm. Fracture of bones in the elbow joint can cause damage to radial nerve which passes through the joint.The sharp edges of fractured bones can injure the nerve.
Besides direct injury, radial nerve damage is also associated with entrapment and compression of the nerve. Inflammation of tendons and surrounding structures around the nerve can result in compression of the nerve.
Following are triggers to cause damage to the radial nerve.
- Sleeping in awkward position during night.
- Pressure from improper use of crutches.
- Wearing tight wrist strap or a watch.
- Overuse of wrist joint.
- Falling on the arm.
- Medical conditions such as leprosy and diabetes.
Symptoms Of Damage To Radial Nerve
Damage to radial nerve can produce several symptoms in hand since it passes from arm and all the way to wrist. It can produce motor as well as sensory symptoms. Patient suffering from radial nerve damage may experience following symptoms:
- Pain at wrist joint.
- Sharp and burning pain in thumb, middle and index finger.
- Tingling numbness in wrist and on the back of forearm.
- Wrist drop is major problem that occurs after radial nerve damage. Patient is unable to extend or raise his wrist and fingers.
- He is unable to hold the grip.
- Decreased sensation all over hand or some area of arm and forearm.
- Patient experiences difficulty in extending his arm from elbow due to pain.
Treatment Options For Damaged Radial Nerve
The goal of treatment is to restore the function of damaged nerve and relieve the symptoms that occur due to radial nerve damage. Management will depend on the underlying cause. Primary treatment of radial nerve damage consists of:
- Rest: Immobilize the affected hand for few days by applying a bandage or a forearm splint. This will restrict movement and allow healing the process.
- Ice: Take few cubes of ice in a clean cloth and gently place the wet cloth over the painful area for 5 to 10 minutes. It will help to alleviate pain. Ice fomentation is useful when the radial nerve is entrapped in the canal through which it passes.
- Analgesics are important for relieving pain. However, they give temporary relief to the patient. Besides, long term use of painkillers may not be good for health.
- After a period of time patient may need to start physical therapy. Use of ultrasound, wax bath, various exercises as advised by physiotherapists is effective in reversing the dysfunction caused due to damage of radial nerve.
- Surgery is the last resort that may be needed to free the compressed nerve.