The radial nerve runs from your upper arm all the way down to the very tips of your fingers. It's largely responsible for the movement of your arms and hands, especially deliberate ones. Without it, you can't form a fist, give someone a high five, or snap your fingers. The radial nerve is impressive in how much it controls.
Watch these YouTube videos that capture what it is like to have radial nerve palsy: Radial Nerve Palsy and Radial Nerve Palsy 2.
The Simple Definition
So, we've talked about your radial nerve and where it's located. Technically speaking, radial nerve palsy can attack the radial nerve at any point between your upper arm and fingers. However, palsy most often affects the wrists, hands, and fingers, rather than any part of the upper arm or forearm.
The palsy can present in several ways. For example, you might feel pain in or around your wrist or hand. Rather than pain — or in addition to it — you may also experience weakness. Loss of function is another sign that your radial nerve has suffered some kind of damage.
What Causes Radial Nerve Palsy?
There are a number of known causes that lead to radial nerve palsy. The most frequent culprit is a break or a fracture of the humerus, which is, in your arm. However, an intense or persistent pressure against your arm or wrist can do some damage, too. Let's say you broke your leg, and you're walking around on crutches. If the tops of the crutches cut into your armpit in just the right — or wrong — way, then it could lead to symptoms in your hand or fingers. A watch can put too much pressure on the radial nerve on your wrist.
Sleeping awkwardly, such as with your hand thrown over the back of the couch or trapped beneath your body, can lead to problems. If you're hit hard enough to get a particularly bad bruise anywhere along your radial nerve, it can cause issues, as well. Tumors, bumps, or cysts inside your wrist can do the same.
Cuts or slashes on your arm may result in radial nerve damage. It often happens to people who cut their wrists. Individuals who participate in self-mutilation run the risk of harming not just their skin and sinew, but their radial nerve.
It's worth mentioning that radial nerve palsy goes by several different names. For example, it's known as “wrist drop” because of the way it often presents. That is, a person with palsy discovers that their hand is limp at the wrist with the fingers pointing down, and it's impossible to turn them upward. Since it can be caused by falling asleep with your arm extended and raised in an uncomfortable position, it's also called “Saturday night syndrome.” Radial nerve palsy is nothing to joke about.
Be Aware of the Symptoms
It's hard to mistake the symptoms of radial nerve palsy for anything else, although you might at first think that your hand or arm is just asleep. Your arm might feel numb or weak, beginning at your triceps and moving on down to your hands and fingers. When this happens, it's impossible to curl your fingers into a fist. It's hard to extend your elbow or fingers, as well. If the condition continues unchecked, then you'll start to lose the muscle tone in your lower and upper arms.
Plainly speaking, you're likely to lose every ounce of strength in your hand.
There are several treatment options for this condition. In many cases, it disappears on its own, so you won't need to worry about extreme methods, such as radial nerve palsy tendon transplant. Your doctor might subscribe pain medication or if the palsy is presenting because of a break or fracture, then a cast or a splint should suffice. Physical therapy is helpful, too. You might need nothing more than a few stretches and exercises to help you retain your full range of motion.
Nerve stimulation (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) is another treatment method. It involves the application of a gentle current of electricity that targets your muscles. It's another option for pain management.
The most extreme treatment option is surgery. It's delicate and intensive, as it involves repairing the damage done to the nerve.
Have you ever done anything that caused your arm to feel numb or your wrist to go limp? Do you think you had radial nerve palsy?