Everything You Need To Know About Radial Nerve Dysfunction

It is unfortunate that injuries and mishaps can strike at any time but now with easier access to information and advancement of science, people are becoming more aware of all types of ailments and also be able to gather the required knowledge to fight against it. And similarly, through this article, we are going to cover a very common occurrence which has been tormenting people for a long now which is known as the radial nerve dysfunction.

This debilitating condition occurs when an injury takes place in any one of the radial nerves. It is a common occurrence, however, people are quite unaware of this condition and tend to ignore the situation and therefore without proper treatment, the condition further worsens.

So let us further know about radial nerve dysfunction then and see about its causes and treatments.

What is the radial nerve?

Before starting the article, we should first have some knowledge about the radial nerve. 

The radial nerve is a major peripheral nerve of the upper limb and is the terminal continuation of the posterior cord of the brachial plexus. The radial nerve runs underside of the arm and controls the movements of the tricep muscle. The radial nerve is responsible for extending the wrist and fingers and controlling the sensations of the hand.

Things to know about radial nerve damage

Injury to the radial nerve results in radial neuropathy which is also known as radial nerve palsy. 

There can be varying degrees to the nerve damage which is measured on the extent of the injury

  • Neurapraxia- first-degree injury; least serious classification
  • Axonotmesis- can be either second third or fourth-degree injury
  • Neurotmesis- fifth-degree injury; most severe nerve damage

Since the radial nerve runs underside the arm, studies have shown that there are generally four areas where the radial nerves are more prone to suffer from injury and those places are:

1.Injury at the axilla- 

After leaving the brachial plexus, the radial nerve travels underside of the arm close to the armpit. Improper use of clutches is considered the biggest cause for causing compression in this point. This injury causes weakness of arms and finger extensions and you may also suffer from a condition known as ‘wrist drop’.

2.Injury at the spiral groove- 

The radial nerve travels down the arm and wraps around the humerus in a channel which is known as the spiral groove. The nerve can get compressed due to some reasons and interfere with movements of the wrist and fingers. This injury is most noticed when the muscles are extended than flexed.

3.Posterior interosseous nerve injury- 

Injury of radial nerve at the posterior interosseous nerve does not produce any abnormal sensations but can lead to muscle weakness.

4.Superficial radial neuropathy- 

Radial nerves are most susceptible to injury at the wrist and injury to radial nerves of the wrist causes unbearable pain to shoot up and down the arm.

Radial Nerve

Causes of radial nerve dysfunction

The causes of radial nerve dysfunction can be due to a wide range of factors. 

Some of the popular causes of radial nerve damage are:

  • Fracturing humerus, the bone in the upper arm
  • Sleeping in an awkward position
  • Pressure from leaning the arm over the back of a chair which is also known as ‘Saturday night palsy’ condition
  • Using crutches improperly
  • Falling on or receiving a blow to the arm
  • Long term constriction of wrists.
  • A broken arm or other related injuries
  • Diabetes
  • Lead poisoning
  • Long term pressure on the nerves which is usually caused due to swelling or other injuries

Symptoms of radial nerve damage

The symptoms of dysfunction include:

  • Mild or severe pain
  • Weakness in wrist, hand or fingers
  • Loss of motor functions of fingers, hand and wrist
  • Numbness, tingling sensation and trouble straightening the arms
  • In some extreme cases, condition like ‘wrist drop’ or ‘finger drop’

Treatments for radial nerve dysfunction

The following symptoms are quite enough to diagnose radial nerve dysfunction, however, to completely verify electrodiagnostic testing and imaging tests can also be done. 

A minor injury can go away easily without any medications. However, that being said, if you suffer from unbearable pain, visit a doctor immediately as ignoring the condition will only deteriorate the condition further.

Upon encountering radial nerve damage the following precautions can be taken. 

  • Analgesic and anti-inflammatory medications
  • Anti seizures medications or tricyclic depressants to treat pain
  • Anaesthetic creams
  • Electroacupuncture or some other physical therapy to regain muscle strength
  • Massage
  • Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation

In some extreme cases, it can also lead to surgeries and some of the common treatments used to treat are: 

  • Nerve repair- 

Repairing of damaged nerves takes place through this surgery. The doctors try to heal the affected nerve to its original condition. This condition is used when the nerve damage is mild, however, if the nerve damage is severe, nerve grafting or transfers is also employed. These procedures use nerves from other parts of the body to be employed in the affected region.

  • Tendon transfer- 

A complicated surgery, tendon transfer involves replacing the non-working tendon of the affected region with a working tendon from another place of the body. Local or general anaesthesia is used during the surgery. After surgery, one usually has to wear splint or cast when the tendon heals. Physical therapy can also increase the pace of the healing process.

  • Functional muscle transfer- 

Functional muscle transfer is the last resort used to treat radial nerve dystonia and is used when the nerve damage is too extensive. It is a relatively new procedure which involves replacing the non-working muscle with another donor’s muscle and the affected region is treated.

The healing period after surgery is extremely crucial for total well being. The affected person should abstain from heavy physical labour. Consuming a healthy diet after undergoing surgery to quicken the healing process and usage of physical therapy can also prove to be very beneficial for recovery.

 Although a common occurrence, it can be easily treated with the help of proper medication and treatments. Avoid putting prolonged pressure on the arm and avoid behaviours that can lead to nerve damage. 

On a final note, we can say that radial nerve dysfunction can be easily treated, contact your doctor as soon as you observe any symptoms of damage for early diagnosis and proper medications and treatments. There you go, everything you need to know radial nerve dysfunction.

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