Wrist drop, which is also called radial neuropathy or Saturday night palsy, is caused by damage to the radial nerve of the arm. Its symptoms include weakness and numbness, which may take days to months to heal. Wrist drop is often the result of sitting with the arm in an unusual position for an extended period of time.
Inability to extend the hand or raise the hand using the wrist are also symptoms of this condition. The hand or wrist may be weak, and the fingers may also be affected. Widespread numbness throughout the wrist, hand, and fingers is also not uncommon. Other symptoms include wrist pain, tenderness, and swelling.
Radial neuropathy is the result of injury to the radial nerve. This nerve is attached to the spinal cord and spirals around the arm, controlling skin sensation and the muscles in the arm, wrist, and hand. The condition occurs when the radial nerve becomes compressed or damaged.
Compression of the radial nerve most often occurs after sitting in an awkward position, such as having the arm draped over the back of a hard chair for an extended period of time. It most often occurs to people who have been drinking or who have taken drugs and then fallen asleep in this awkward position. Most sober people would wake up from this painful position before damage occurred. This condition is also known as Saturday night palsy, as it often occurs after a night of partying.
Generally, wrist drop will cure itself over time. Depending on the extent of the damage, this may be anywhere from several days to several months or longer than a year. Healing time depends entirely on whether or not the radial nerve was damaged and can heal itself or if parts of the nerve were so severely damaged that it must re-grow. Typically, a doctor will have patients wear a splint and participate in physical therapy. In rare instances, surgery may be required to repair the problem.
There are a number of exercises that are recommended to patients suffering from wrist drop. The wrist can be stretched by holding the arm straight out away from the body as the opposite hand gently flexes the wrist towards the floor, then towards the ceiling. Finger stretches may also help. With a rubber band wrapped around all five fingers, the fingers can be stretched out as far as possible. These exercises can be preformed by individuals with minor wrist drop, as no movement of the wrist or fingers is possible in more severe cases.