Causes and Symptoms

Radial Tunnel Syndrome, or RTS, is caused by increased pressure on the radial nerve, which runs by the bones and muscles of the forearm and elbow. This occurs when the radial nerve passes through a tunnel in the elbow. RTS often presents like tennis elbow but has some distinct differences.

Causes include:
  • Injury
  • Noncancerous fatty tumors (lipomas)
  • Bone tumors
  • Inflammation of surrounding tissue

Symptoms of radial tunnel syndrome include:
  • Cutting, piercing, or stabbing pain at the top of the forearm or back of the hand, especially when you try to straighten your wrist and fingers.
  • Tenderness and pain on the outside of the elbow.
  • The pain worsens when you move your wrist backwards or turn your palm upward.


Radial tunnel syndrome is caused by the nerve in the forearm being compressed somewhere near the elbow, causing severe pain in the forearms of the individual along with weakness of the muscles. The compression is usually caused where the nerve splits in either the PIN (main trunk), the sensory branch (minor trunk), or just before the split. Radial tunnel syndrome can be caused by
external image elbow_radtun_symptoms01.jpg
inflammation, overusing the arm/arms with repetitive motions, blunt trauma, abnormalities in the bone or muscle structure of the arm itself.
Commonly mistaken for tennis elbow, RTS is very difficult to diagnose. As opposed to a patient with tennis elbow, however, the patient’s area of tenderness will be located around a quarter the way down the forearm from the elbow as opposed to the elbow itself. In some more
aggravated instances of RTS, an EMG may need to be performed. An EMG tests the forearm muscles and makes sure they are working properly. If there is a problem with the muscles it may show a problem with the radial nerve.


Radial Tunnel Syndrome can be treated in two ways, surgically or non-surgically.
Non-surgical approach: the patient usually goes to physical therapy. In the therapy, the patient is given exercises that help to move the radial nerve within the arm as to move the point of compression to a different part of the nerve, giving temporary relief and at times loosening the pinch. Also, exercises can be performed to help reinforce proper elbow movement to prevent further pinching. Electrical Therapy may be an option in some cases.
In addition, NSAID's, injections or even splinting are some other approaches that can be made.


Surgical Approach: This approach is not the first option considered by a doctor. If surgery were to be performed, an incision is made on the forearm. The surgeon then inspects the nerve canal, looks for possible pinch points, and then gives the nerve more room.



Release Surgery


Related Terminology

Tennis Elbow