The radial nerve runs down the length of the arm. It is one of 3 nerves that carry signals from the brain down the arm to the hand. It controls movement of the triceps muscle at the back of the upper arm. It also controls movement and feeling in the wrist and hand. Radial nerve palsy (also called wrist drop) is caused by damage to the radial nerve. Symptoms include:
Weakness of the wrist and fingers
Muscle shrinkage in the arm or hand
Pain in the arm, wrist, or hand
Inability to straighten the wrist or fingers
Numbness or tingling of the hand
Injury to the radial nerve may be caused by:
Direct blow to the nerve
Cut or other wound that affects the nerve
Fracture of the arm or elbow
Unrelieved pressure on the radial nerve (from things such as sleeping with the arm trapped under the body)
Injury that results in swelling around the nerve
Use of crutches resulting in compression of on the nerve
Long-term constriction of the wrist (for example, from a tight watch or bracelet)
Repetitive twisting motions of the forearm
In some cases, no cause can be found.
The treatment depends on the cause of the nerve damage. In some cases, the problem will go away on its once pressure to the nerve is relieved. Your healthcare provider may do electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies (NCS) to determine the extent of damage done to the radial nerve. This will allow your provider to know a rough estimate of the time needed for you to get better. Splinting the wrist to limit movement may help with healing. If the problem is due to trauma or injury, physical therapy may be prescribed. Corticosteroids injections into the area may reduce swelling and pressure on the nerve. Surgery to repair the nerve may be needed for chronic symptoms that don't respond to simpler treatments.
Rest the wrist and arm until normal feeling and strength return.
If you were given a splint or sling, wear it as directed.
Don't lean on your elbows.
If medicines were prescribed for pain or nerve sensations, take them as directed.
Follow up with your healthcare provider or as advised by our staff.
Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:
Increasing arm swelling or pain
Worsening numbness or weakness of the arm
Symptoms spreading to other parts of the body
Slurred speech, confusion
Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
Trouble speaking, walking, or seeing
© 2000-2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.