Can Wrist Drop Be Cured?

Reviewed on 4/11/2022
Doctor checking a man's bent hand
Wrist drop caused by radial nerve palsy can be cured in the majority of cases with conservative treatment.

Wrist drop is a symptom of radial nerve palsy in which the wrist hangs limply and the patient is unable to lift it.

Radial nerve palsy is a result of compression of the radial nerve, which is the nerve that travels down the arm and helps with movement of the arm, wrist, hand, and fingers and its compression causes pain, weakness and loss of function in a person’s arm, wrist, hand, and fingers.

Treatment for wrist drop and radial nerve palsy often depends on the cause. In some cases, the wrist drop may go away over time as awkward positions are corrected, injuries heal, or cysts or tumors are removed. 

Wrist drop caused by radial nerve palsy can be cured in the majority of cases. About 70% of radial nerve palsy cases are cured with conservative treatment. 

Treatment for wrist drop and radial nerve palsy may include: 

  • Medication
    • Anti-inflammatories
    • Pain medicines
  • Physical therapy to strengthen muscles and increase range of motion
  • Splint or cast
  • Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS)
  • Surgery

Depending on the amount of damage to the radial nerve, it can take weeks to months for a nerve to heal after treatment.

What Are Symptoms of Wrist Drop?

Symptoms of wrist drop include: 

  • Wrist hanging limply
  • Person cannot lift their wrist
  • Problems extending or straightening the wrist or fingers
  • Difficulty making a fist

In addition to wrist drop, other symptoms of radial nerve palsy affect a person’s arm, wrist, hand, and/or fingers and may include: 

  • Pain
  • Weakness
  • Numbness
  • Inability to control muscles
  • Loss of function 
  • Pinching and grasping problems

What Causes Radial Nerve Palsy?

Wrist drop is caused by radial nerve palsy. Causes of radial nerve palsy may include:

  • Fracture of the long bone of the upper arm (humerus bone)
  • Dislocations 
  • Pressure injuries caused by repetitive motion or remaining in awkward body positions for long periods of time, such as while working or sleeping
  • Bruises that put pressure on the radial nerve
  • Growths such as tumors or cysts
  • Devices
    • Tight watches pressing on the wrist 
    • Crutches pressing under the arm
  • Cuts on the wrist or arm 
  • Systemic nutritional deficiencies
  • Infection or inflammation (rarely)

How Is Wrist Drop Diagnosed?

Wrist drop and radial nerve palsy are diagnosed with a patient history and a physical examination of the arm and hands.

Tests used to diagnose radial nerve palsy may include: 

How Do You Prevent Wrist Drop?

Some causes of wrist drop and radial nerve palsy may be prevented with behavior or lifestyle changes, such as proper ergonomics and posture at work and pillows to correct awkward sleeping positions.

Reviewed on 4/11/2022
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