It is often seen that a person feels pain on the outer aspect of their elbow and along the length of the forearm. The intensity of the pain may be moderate to very severe. This can lead to significant restrictions in carrying out their day-to-day activities. The pain may be localised to the elbow, or may radiate to the forearms or the shoulders as well.
This happens when a nerve that starts in the neck and runs down the arms, known as the radial nerve, gets pinched near the elbow. The radial nerve passes through an area called the radial tunnel just below the elbow. When pinched, it can cause severe pain, discomfort, and weakness. This is called radial tunnel syndrome. It is often mistaken with tennis elbow. However, the two are different, and a hand surgeon, such as the reputed nerve surgeon in Pune, will be able to help you with a precise diagnosis.
The telltale signs of radial tunnel syndrome is pain in the outer elbow, that may move down to the forearm or shoot up to the shoulder. Not everyone who has radial tunnel syndrome will have the same symptoms. They may be mild for some and much more severe for others. Similarly, not everyone who has similar symptoms may necessarily be afflicted with radial tunnel syndrome. Some other common symptoms include:
- Pain in the back of the hand
- Pain just below the elbow
- Difficulty or pain when extending or rotating the wrist
- Difficulty or pain when extending fingers
- Difficulty in gripping, lifting, or pushing objects
The key to a precise diagnosis of radial tunnel syndrome is in the exact location of the pain. The pain in this scenario should be located at about 3 fingers breadth below or distal to the elbow crease over the outer aspect of the forearm.
The doctor may ask you to push or pull against resistance using your arm or middle finger without bending your elbow. Pain during any of these movements is generally a symptom of radial tunnel syndrome.
You may also be required to go through an electromyography, or EMG test, which lets the doctor understand how well the muscles and nerves in the arm are working. The hand surgeon will at times ask for 2 exams, called nerve conduction study and EMG, and figure out whether the pain is arising from an injury in the radial nerve. At times MRI or Ultrasonography may be helpful.
The idea is to eliminate the pain. The doctor may first try out less invasive methods to check if these help with the symptoms. They may recommend over-the-counter painkillers, some stretching exercises, splints in the wrist or elbow, and also physical therapy or physiotherapy.
If all else fails, the pinched nerve is freed from entrapment through a surgical procedure. In it, the surgeon will widen the radial tunnel, thus relieving pressure on the radial nerve and allowing it more space. This is a short procedure, which can easily be done without any need for hospitalisation.
Surgery provides dramatic relief. You will also usually be recommended physical therapy and simple exercises.
Radial tunnel syndrome is a common condition that can easily be treated, at times without surgery. The key is a precise and timely diagnosis of the issue. Dr. Pankaj Jindal routinely does this kind of nerve surgery in Pune, and has been successfully relieving pain for countless patients. Visit the website www.handsurgery.in or call him at 98220 31140 to book an appointment.