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Radial Tunnel Syndrome

What is Radial Tunnel Syndrome?

Radial tunnel syndrome is a painful condition caused by irritation or compression of the radial nerve as it passes between the radius bone and the supinator muscle next to it, just below the outside of the elbow. It is characterised by pain on the outside of the elbow that extends into the upper forearm. It is common that you may have pins and needles or numbness in the web space between the thumb and index finger on the back of the hand.

What causes radial tunnel syndrome?

Radial tunnel syndrome is caused when the radial nerve is compressed or rubbed when it passes through a canal in the upper forearm. This can be caused by the following:

  • lifting a bag with a straight arm next to your side
  • prolonged activities such as data entry or mouse clicking
  • Mopping, vacuuming or driving

This may also be caused by a structural compression which usually occurs when anatomical structures next to the nerve push on it therefore the nerve becomes irritated and becomes sensitive to repetitive activities

How do I know if I have radial tunnel syndrome?

If you have Radial Tunnel Syndrome you may have the following symptoms:

  • you have a deep, aching pain that is just below the elbow in the forearm muscles
  • you have lesser pain on the bony point on the outside of your elbow
  • the pain is made worse by gripping (with twisting), pushing or data entry tasks
  • you have altered or absent sensation between your thumb and index finger on the back of your hand
  • you have had tennis elbow that does not respond to management.

Radial tunnel syndrome will not give you tenderness on the outer tip of the elbow as does tennis elbow.

How can physiotherapy help with radial tunnel syndrome?

In radial tunnel syndrome, it is very important to seek early diagnosis and management to try and prevent damage to the nerve through either ongoing trauma or secondary inflammation and swelling. If there is loss of sensation, commonly physiotherapy does not work as well.

Physiotherapy treatment for radial tunnel syndrome includes the following:

  • Stretches for your chest muscles, neck and upper back
  • Dry needling
  • Ice.
  • Mobilisation of your neck

What can I do at home?

There are many things that you can do at home to help reduce the pain of radial tunnel syndrome.

  • Elimiate activites that make your pain worse,
  • Stretching the muscles across your chest and neck
  • Taking ibuprofen
  • Ice

How long until I feel better?

Radial Tunnel Syndrome can be resolved in a number weeks, particularly with simple case as pain may be relived though stretching. For people who have had this condition for more than a few weeks it may take a longer time to manage and control the condition, possibly taking up to 3–6 months.

If you would like to find out more please call us or book an appointment here.

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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.