Radial Nerve Injury at the Elbow


Radial Nerve Injury at the Elbow, Radial Tunnel, Radial Tunnel Syndrome, Posterior Interosseous Nerve Syndrome, Posterior Interosseus Nerve Injury at the Elbow, Wartenberg's Syndrome, Neurogenic Tennis Elbow

  • Causes
  1. Repetitive Forearm supination and pronation
    1. Carpenters
    2. Mechanics
  2. Lateral elbow compression of the Radial Nerve
    1. Results in radial nerve Entrapment Neuropathy
  • Pathophysiology
  1. Radial Nerve divides at the lateral elbow into two branches
    1. Superficial branch (Sensory only)
    2. Posterior interosseus nerve (Deep branch, motor resulting in wrist extension weakness)
  • Symptoms
  1. Radial Tunnel (superficial branch compression, sensory only, Wartenberg's Syndrome)
    1. Gradual onset, or poorly localized Forearm pain
    2. Provoked with repetitive Forearm pronation
  2. Posterior interosseus nerve (Deep branch)
    1. Hand weakness in wrist extension
  • Signs
  1. Radial Tunnel
    1. Superficial branch compression, sensory only (Wartenberg's Syndrome)
      1. Motor weakness suggests posterior interosseus nerve (Deep branch) compression (see below)
    2. Like Lateral Epicondylitis, Radial Tunnel is exacerbated by Forearm supination and wrist dorsiflexion against resistance
    3. Unlike Lateral Epicondylitis, maximal tenderness is over the anterior radial neck
    4. Positive Tinel sign (tapping over the Radial Tunnel reproduces symptoms)
  2. Posterior interosseus nerve (Deep branch, sensory and motor findings)
    1. Pain features are the same as for Radial Tunnel
    2. Weak wrist extension and especially weak middle finger extension against resistance
  • Differential Diagnosis
  • Radial Tunnel (Wartenberg's Syndrome)
  • Management
  • Radial Tunnel (sensory) and posterior interosseus nerve (motor and sensory)
  1. Eliminate provocative actvities (repetitive motion)
  2. Physical Therapy
    1. Work on wrist extensor muscles and Forearm supinatory muscles
    2. Start with Stretching after pain has ceased and then gradually introduce strengthening
  3. May respond to a single Corticosteroid Injection
  4. Cock-up Wrist Splint
    1. Prevent wrist extension
  5. Elbow splint
    1. Indicated for brief use to prevent Forearm supination
    2. Splint with elbow at 90 degrees (risk of loss of elbow range of motion)
  6. Surgical decompression
    1. Consider if persists beyond 3 months of therapy