Radial Nerve Palsy
The radial nerve runs from the upper arm to the wrist and fingers. This nerve controls movement and sensation in the arm and hand and extension of the elbow, wrist and fingers. Radial nerve palsy is a condition that affects the radial nerve and if damage to this nerve occurs, weakness, numbness and an inability to control the muscles served by this nerve may result.
Baptist Health is known for advanced, superior care in diagnosing and treating radial nerve palsy. Our 24/7 inpatient neurology and neurosurgery services, as well as our outpatient services, Home Health, physical and occupational therapy services are available to help treat people with radial nerve palsy.
You will appreciate timely appointments and a professional, friendly atmosphere where we take time to listen to your concerns. At Baptist Health, you have access to the region’s most comprehensive, multidisciplinary team of specialists and innovative therapies, including many available only through specialized clinical trials. In every way, we work to demonstrate the utmost in excellent care to those who trust us with their health.
Signs and Symptoms of Radial Nerve Palsy
Radial nerve palsy symptoms include:
- Numbness from the triceps down to the fingers
- Problems extending the wrist or fingers
- Pinching and grasping problems
- Weakness or inability to control muscles from the triceps down to the fingers
- Wrist drop – when the wrist hangs limply and the patient cannot lift it
Radial Nerve Palsy Diagnosis
To diagnose radial nerve palsy, a physician will perform a physical examination to evaluate weakness, numbness and other symptoms in the arm and hand.
We then use advanced diagnostic procedures and technology to effectively diagnose, inform treatment and carefully monitor the condition. Diagnostic procedures may include:
Electromyogram (EMG): This test measures the electrical activity of a muscle in response to stimulation, as well as the nature and speed of the conduction of electrical impulses along a nerve. It can confirm the presence of nerve damage and assess its severity.
Imaging studies: The physician may order an X-ray, ultrasound or MRI to check for broken bones, cysts and other masses in the arm.
Nerve conduction studies: These tests measure how well individual nerves can send an electrical signal from the spinal cord to the muscles. A physician places a shock-emitting electrode directly over the nerve to be studied, and a recording electrode over the muscles supplied by that nerve. The shock-emitting electrode sends repeated, brief electrical pulses to the nerve, and the recording electrode records the time it takes for the muscle to contract in response to the electrical pulse
Radial Nerve Palsy Causes
Radial nerve palsy can be caused by pressure injuries caused by awkward body positions for long periods of time, such as while working or sleeping; bruises that put pressure on the radial nerve; growths such as tumors or cysts; and devices such as tight watches pressing on the wrist or crutches pressing under the arm.
Fractures or dislocations as well as cuts on the wrist or arm can also damage or separate the radial nerve. In rare cases, radial nerve palsy is caused by infection or inflammation.
Most of these causes cannot be controlled by behavior or lifestyle changes. However, proper ergonomics and posture at work and pillows to correct awkward sleeping positions may help.
Risk factors that may contribute to radial nerve palsy include:
Gender: Radial nerve palsy is more common in men than women.
Occupational risks: Jobs that require repetitive motion and awkward postures or working positions may increase the risk of radial nerve palsy.
Other injuries: Broken bones, joint dislocations, significant bruises and injuries requiring the use of crutches can increase a person’s risk for radial nerve palsy.
Most cases of radial nerve palsy cannot be prevented, but proper ergonomics and work postures and pillows to correct awkward sleeping positions may help.
Radial Nerve Palsy Prognosis and Treatment
This condition may go away over time as accompanying injuries heal, cysts or tumors are removed, or awkward postures are corrected. But, some people may always experience varying degrees of radial nerve palsy.
Treatment and Recovery
Treatment of radial nerve palsy may include:
Your physician may recommend prescription or over-the-counter medication to decrease pain associated with radial nerve palsy.
Your physician or physical therapist may prescribe exercises to strengthen your muscles and increase your range of motion.
Splint or Cast
A splint or cast can support the wrist and hand while the radial nerve heals.
In certain cases, your physician may recommend surgery to remove a cyst, tumor or broken bone pressing on the nerve or repair the nerve itself.
Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
This therapy applies a gentle electric current to the muscles and may help reduce pain.
Recovery time depends on how badly the radial nerve was damaged. It may take weeks to months for a nerve to heal after treatment.
Many patients with radial nerve palsy will see complete recovery or symptom relief after treatment. In some cases, complications may occur, including:
Partial or complete loss of feeling in the hand: If the radial nerve doesn’t heal completely, numbness may be permanent.
Partial or complete loss of wrist or hand movement: If the radial nerve doesn’t heal completely, weakness may be permanent.
Mild-to-severe deformities of the hand: Ongoing radial nerve problems can cause joint and muscle stiffening or muscle atrophy.
Recurrent or unnoticed injuries to the wrist or hand: If the wrist or hand are numb, a person may not notice an injury.
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