Radial neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the radial nerve, which travels down the arm and controls movement of the triceps muscle at the back of the upper arm. It also controls the ability to bend the wrist backward and helps with the movement and sensation of the wrist and hand.
Mononeuropathy means a single nerve is damaged. With mononeuropathy, usually the nerve damage is caused locally. However, body-wide disorders may damage just one nerve.
"Crutch palsy," caused by improper use of crutches
The goal of treatment is to allow you to use the hand and arm as much as possible. The health care provider should find and treat the cause, if possible. In some cases, no treatment is needed and you will recover slowly on your own.
Surgery to remove masses that press on the nerve may help.
Medical causes such as diabetes and kidney disease should be treated.
Anticonvulsant medicines (phenytoin, carbamazepine, gabapentin, and pregabalin) or tricyclic antidepressants (amitriptyline) to reduce stabbing pain
Steroid (prednisone) injections around the nerve to reduce swelling may help some patients.
Whenever possible, avoid or minimize your use of medications to reduce the risk of side effects.
Other treatments include:
Braces, splints, or other appliances to help you use the hand in severe cases
Physical therapy to help maintain muscle strength
Occupational therapy and vocational therapy or counseling to suggest changes at the worksite may be needed.
If the cause of the nerve dysfunction can be found and successfully treated, there is a good chance that you will fully recover. In some cases, there may be partial or complete loss of movement or sensation.
Nerve pain may be uncomfortable and may last for a long period of time. If this occurs, see a pain specialist to ensure you have access to all pain treatment options.
Mild to severe deformity of the hand
Partial or complete loss of feeling in the hand
Partial or complete loss of wrist or hand movement
Recurrent or unnoticed injury to the hand
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if you have had an injury to the arm, and you develop numbness, tingling, or weakness.
Avoid prolonged pressure on the upper arm.
Weiss LD, Pobre TE. Radial neuropathy. In: Frontera WR, Silver JK, Rizzo TD Jr., eds. Essentials of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2008:chap 22.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and Daniel B. Hoch, PhD, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.