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What Is the Radial Nerve?

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  • Written By: Meshell Powell
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
  • Last Modified Date: 21 April 2014
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The radial nerve is a nerve found in the human arm. This is the nerve responsible for providing the nerve supply to the forearm as well as the posterior compartment of the arm, also called the extensor compartment. This compartment holds the muscles that are supplied by the radial nerve. This nerve also enters the bone in the arm known as the humerus.

The triceps brachii is the primary muscle supplied by the radial nerve. Other muscles are supplied, at least in part, by this nerve. The triceps brachii is a large muscle with three heads located on the back of the upper arm. This is the muscle that makes it possible to straighten the arm.

The radial nerve begins at the structure known as the brachial plexus. This is a network of nerve fibers traveling from the spine and into the neck, armpit region, and then into the arm. The brachial plexus has the responsibility of providing the nerve supply to the muscles and skin of the arm.

Due to the significance of the radial nerve to the human body, injury involving this nerve has the potential to compromise normal motor and sensory function, particularly involving the arm. The humerus is the bone found in the upper arm. As the radial nerve inserts itself into this bone, a fracture can lead to nerve damage.

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Prolonged pressure on the radial nerve can also cause injury or dysfunction. Some causes of this pressure include wearing a watch band too tightly or sleeping in a position that constricts the nerve. A medical condition known as ischemia can also hinder proper nerve function. Ischemia causes improper blood flow to the nerve and surrounding areas.

Some symptoms that may indicate nerve dysfunction involving the radial nerve include pain or numbness, particularly in the hand, or difficulty when trying to extend the wrist or the elbow. Abnormal sensations such as tingling or a pins and needles feeling may also be present. Any of these symptoms should be reported to a medical professional in order to obtain a proper diagnosis.

Treatment for nerve dysfunction is dependent on the cause as well as individual responses to treatment options. Often, the only treatment necessary is to change the actions or positions that lead to the onset of symptoms. In other cases, medications are prescribed in an effort to reduce pain or swelling associated with the nerve dysfunction. Physical therapy or appliances such as braces or splints often reduce symptoms and speed the healing process. Only in rare instances is surgical intervention required in order to repair the nerve or surrounding tissues.

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