Diagnosis for Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Radial Tunnel Syndrome, Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Forearm and elbow pains may be due to radial tunnel syndrome. The lateral elbow and dorsal forearm are affected, and the pain may radiate to the fingers and wrist. The disease appears to be more likely in women aged from 30 to 50.

It results from intermittent compression of the radial nerve from the radial head to the inferior border of the supinator muscle, without apparent weakness of the extensor muscles. The radial nerve can be affected in five different locations, but the arcade of Frohse is most commonly affected.

The clinical examination is more reliable for diagnosing radial tunnel syndrome than other tests, such as electronic diagnostic tests and imaging scans.

What is Radial Tunnel Syndrome?

Radial tunnel syndrome is a condition that develops when the median nerve of the forearm becomes compressed at the point where it passes through the elbow. The condition causes tingling, pain, and weakness in your hand and fingers.

There are many causes of radial tunnel syndrome. Repetitive activities requiring forceful gripping are the most common cause of this problem, including repetitive tasks performed at work, sports, hobbies, etc.

Radial nerve compression affects only 0.003% of the general population each year. Hence, it is an uncommon condition.

Symptoms of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Radial nerve injuries cause pain in your thumb, index, and middle fingers.

You may experience burning or sharp pain in your thumbs and fingers, as well as strange sensations. Numbness, tingling, and difficulties in straightening your arm are common symptoms.

Additionally, you may have trouble extending your wrist or straightening your fingers. When this happens, it is called “wrist drop” or “finger drop,” and it isn’t very prevalent.

Risk Factors of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

People between the ages of 30 and 50 are most likely to suffer from radial tunnel syndrome. It is also more common in women than in men. Radial tunnel syndrome is more likely to develop if you if one or most of the following factors applies to you:

  • Nerve inflammation in the radial nerve.
  • Lack of strength and flexibility in the arms and wrists.
  • Masses, lumps, or tumors in your arm.
  • Diabetes
  • An arm that is swollen or filled with fluid.
  • Underactive thyroid gland.

Causes of Radial Tunnel Syndrome

Pain in the forearm about two inches below the elbow is the most common symptom. Exercise, heavy lifting, elbow extension, and pronation (inward rotation) will worsen the pain.

The pain can sometimes worsen at night and is often followed by achiness and muscle weakness. For an accurate diagnosis, it is essential to distinguish between Radial Tunnel Syndrome and Tennis Elbow.

Diagnosis for Radial Tunnel Syndrome

During your visit to Post Oak ER, a doctor will ask you about your symptoms and when they began. The doctor will use this information to determine the cause of your injury.

The doctor will also perform a physical exam. During the exam, your injured hand, wrist, or arm will be compared to your healthy hand, wrist, or arm.

If your range of motion is affected, they may ask you to extend and rotate your arm. Additionally, you’ll be prompted to stretch your finger and wrist to see if there’s a loss of strength.

You might need to have tests performed to rule out other causes for your symptoms. Your blood sugar, vitamin levels, kidney, and thyroid function, for example, may be checked with a blood test.

Aside from testing for signs of nerve damage, these tests can detect conditions like diabetes, vitamin deficiencies, kidney problems, and liver problems.

CT or MRI scans can also help determine whether any diseases within your head, neck, or shoulders are putting pressure on the radial nerve.

The attending doctor may also recommend in addition to electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction tests. EMGs measure the electrical activity of the muscles, and nerve conduction tests measure how fast impulses travel along your nerves.

If you have a nerve or a muscle problem, these tests can help determine the cause. These tests may also reveal any damage to the radial nerve.

Rarely, the physician may order a nerve biopsy. Here, a small sample of the nerve is collected to examine the damage.

Treatment Options


When repetitive motion causes radial tunnel syndrome, the most effective remedy is to avoid or modify the movement that causes the problem.

Rest and immobilization of the arm can be highly beneficial. Don’t pull, push, twist, or grasp heavy objects as this may worsen symptoms.

Exercising and stretching, coupled with electrical stimulation and ice, may substantially reduce pain. A prescription or over-the-counter NSAIDs like ibuprofen, naproxen alleviate pain and irritation.


Radial nerve injuries tend to heal within three months if the nerve is not torn or lacerated. Sometimes, however, surgery may be necessary. In the case of an entrapped radial nerve, surgery can help alleviate the pressure. You may also need surgery to remove a mass on your radial nerve, like a benign tumor.

Surgery aims to repair nerve damage.

A long arm splint is worn home after this procedure, and you can go home. After 8-10 days, you return to have the sutures removed, and the splint placed. Therapy begins in two weeks, and you wear the removable splint only at night and when you are not active. It takes around two months to complete treatment.

How Can You Prevent Radial Tunnel Syndrome?

Avoid putting prolonged pressure on your upper arm if you wish to prevent most radial nerve injuries. Nerve damage can result from repetitive motions and sitting or sleeping in cramped positions. Avoid these behaviours to reduce nerve damage.

By taking frequent breaks and switching between tasks requiring different movements, you’ll be better able to protect yourself from repetitive motions in your occupation.

The Bottom Line

If you follow instructions carefully and avoid further injuries to your radial nerve, you can successfully treat this condition.

Whether you have had surgery or not, after you have recovered, the main goal is to avoid re-injuring your radial nerve.