How Is Radial Nerve Palsy Treated?

Reviewed on 4/11/2022
Senior man grabbing his arm in pain
Treatment for radial nerve palsy often depends on the cause, and may include anti-inflammatories, pain medicines, physical therapy, splint or cast, Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS), and surgery.

Radial nerve palsy is a condition that causes pain, weakness, and loss of function in a person’s arm, wrist, hand, and fingers. The symptoms are 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.

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

Treatment 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 Radial Nerve Palsy?

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 
  • Problems extending the wrist or fingers
  • Pinching and grasping problems
  • Wrist drop 

What Causes 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
    • Some of these causes have their own name: 
      • Honeymoon palsy: one person sleeps on and compresses another person’s arm
      • Saturday night palsy: falling asleep with an arm hanging over the armrest of a chair, compressing the radial nerve 
      • Squash palsy: results from traction forces associated with the sport squash, occurs with squash players during periods between matches 
  • 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 
  • Infection or inflammation (rarely)

How Is Radial Nerve Palsy Diagnosed?

Radial nerve palsy is 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 Radial Nerve Palsy?

Some causes of 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
Image source: iStock Images