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What Is Radial Nerve Damage?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 22 August 2014
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The radial nerve is found in the arm and helps to control muscle movement, and also allows the wrist to move in a backward direction. This nerve can be damaged by such things as placing too much pressure on it while sleeping, using crutches, or because of a broken bone in the arm. Common symptoms of radial nerve damage include numbness or a tingling sensation traveling though the area where the nerve is located. Treatment often involves the use of medication and physical therapy, but in the more severe cases, surgery may be required.

The majority of radial nerve damage can be traced to abnormal pressure being placed on the nerve, especially in long-term situations. This is especially common due to the position of the arm during sleep. If nearby structures are inflamed or swollen, pressure can be placed on the nerve as a result of the inflammation. Some medical conditions, including diabetes, kidney disease, or multiple sclerosis, can also cause nerve damage, but in many cases, the direct cause is never found.

Abnormal sensations, such as numbness and tingling in the arm and hand, are common symptoms of damage to the radial nerve. It may also become difficult to bend the arm at the elbow or the wrist. Many patients also experience varying degrees of pain.

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Treatment for radial nerve damage often includes physical therapy or mild range of motion exercises, though many cases will resolve on their own without any specific treatment. Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin or ibuprofen, may also be used to reduce inflammation and treat pain. Stronger medications are often prescribed by a medical professional if over-the-counter medications do not provide sufficient relief. If the damage is caused by an underlying medical condition, such as kidney disease, that condition must be treated as well.

In severe cases, or if other types of treatment have failed to supply sufficient relief, surgical intervention may become necessary. If medical tests such as X-rays reveal the presence of a mass pressing on the nerve, surgery may be performed to remove it. Surgery to cut the nerve is seldom performed due to the risks of paralysis following surgery. The use of medications, supportive devices such as splints, and physical therapy are typically the preferred methods of treatment for radial nerve damage.

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