Radial Nerve Palsy

Radial Nerve Palsy

Did you wake up this morning with a feeling of numbness in your arm that is just refusing to go away? You are probably suffering from Radial Nerve Palsy. Read on to know all about this medical syndrome.

What is Radial Nerve Palsy?

Radial Nerve Palsy is a kind of Mononeuropathy, or illness of any particular nerve in the body. The condition is commonly known as “Wrist Drop Deformity” or “Wrist Drop”.

It is also called “Saturday Night Palsy” because it arises in people who drink heavily during weekends and sleep with one arm over the back of a chair or under the head of their partner.

Radial neuropathy

Source: Wikimedia Commons

The word “palsy” stands for paralysis. A Radial nerve damage caused by a broken humerus can lead to immobility or paralysis of the wrist. This is the reason the condition is known as “Radial Nerve Palsy”.

Radial Nerve Definition

The Radial Nerve is the largest branch of nerves of the brachial plexus.

Radial Nerve Location

Radial Nerve extends from the nerve base in the neck to the lateral epicondyle. It divides into two branches from the lateral epicondyle. One branch travels to the skin on the back of the hand and another goes to the extensor muscles lying beneath.

Radial Nerve Function

Radial Nerve supplies sensations to the upper areas of the body. It also helps in movement of the upper body parts, especially the arm.

Radial Nerve Palsy Symptoms

Some of the most common symptoms arising from Radial Nerve Palsy are

Loss of sensation

The patient commonly experiences numbness in the affected are, generally an arm. Loss of Radial Nerve sensation is one of the most common Radial Nerve damage symptoms. The forearm and thumb are mainly affected by Radial Nerve numbness.


The affected person also finds it difficult to use the affected arm. It becomes hard to move the limb. It also becomes a problem to extend the suffering arm. The person also has trouble bending the arm.


The patient also suffers from tingling sensations in the arm affected with Radial Nerve damage.

Burning sensation

There may also be a burning feeling in the impaired arm.


Pain is one of the commonest Radial Nerve compression symptoms. People commonly experience pain in the area affected with Radial Nerve Palsy.

Bowel incontinence

In very serious cases, the person may suffer from involuntary defecation or passing of urine.


In extreme conditions, patients may also find the fingers of their affected arm turning pale in color. This is one of the Radial Nerve injury symptoms seen in later stages.


If the affected part takes too long to recover, the patient may suffer from depression. This is especially true in cases where the livelihood of a sufferer is affected due to immobility of the arm. Depression is one of the major Wrist Drop symptoms that tend to be ignored by medical practitioners.

Wrist Drop Causes

Various factors can give rise to Radial Nerve Palsy in patients. These are

Persistent nerve trauma

Constant injury to the nerve is a common cause for Radial Nerve of the arm.


Huge pressure on the nerve leads to loss of ability. Radial Nerve compression is a major reason for this condition.

Diabetes Mellitus

In people with Diabetes, Radial Nerve Palsy is very common. Diabetic patients are susceptible to nerve diseases, including Radial Nerve wrist drop.

Humerus Fracture

Fracture of the humerus, particularly in the middle third or at the joint of the distal and middle thirds, is a common cause for this condition.

Radial Nerve Palsy Tests for Diagnosis

The diagnosis of this disease is mainly done with the aid of Radial Nerve tests like Nerve Conduction Velocity studies. This kind of Wrist Drop test helps doctors determine whether a Radial Nerve injury is the source of the disorder.

Difficult cases require MRI imaging tests for Radial Nerve examination.

Wrist Drop Differential Diagnosis

Differential diagnosis for Radial Nerve Palsy is needed to distinguish the disorder from other diseases that produce similar symptoms like Guillain-Barre syndrome, Radial Tunnel syndrome, Tick Paralysis and Brachial plexus disorder.

Radial Nerve Palsy Treatment

For initial treatment of Radial Nerve Palsy splinting of the wrist may be needed. Conservative therapy initially involves wrist drop splints and muscle loss minimization. Physical therapy and occupational therapy are also required, especially in cases of Radial Nerve of the hand.

In certain cases, Radial Nerve surgery may be required. Radial Nerve operation is especially needed by patients who are suffering from the disease due to bone projections striking on the nerve.

Medications for Wrist Drop syndrome include analgesics. Analgesics bring relief from pain and provide quick comfort to sufferers. Carbamazepine and Phenytoin are the common painkillers used for Wrist Drop treatment.

Tricyclic antidepressants may also be used in cases where the patients suffer from pessimism due to inability to function properly. Such people also need counseling to come out of a depressive state of mind.

Cases of inflammation require use of steroidal drugs. If there is severe pain and swelling, braces may be used.

For treating Wrist Drop occupational therapy may be sometimes used as an additional method.

Wrist Drop Exercises

Some of the major exercises for wrist drop patients are

Grasping Exercise

This simple workout requires patients to squeeze a tennis ball 25-30 times with the injured hand. It helps increase blood circulation to the affected part and strengthens the muscle.

Rotation Exercise

The patient has to slowly rotate the affected wrist gripping a slightly heavy object such as a hammer or a rubber mallet.
Rubber Brand Stretch

This exercise needs practitioners to wind a rubber band around the fingers on the injured hand. The fingers have to be stretched against resistance from rubber band. This has to be done for a few times in three or four sets.

Wrist Drop Management

The disease needs to be managed with a lot of care. Activities like writing should be done a little to aid blood circulation in the affected nerves. Patients must also follow a proper diet to supply the body with vitamins and minerals essential for regeneration of the damaged nerves.
Abstinence from alcoholic beverages is also required to prevent further injury in Wrist Drop Palsy.

Radial tunnel syndrome

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Drop Wrist Deformity

Source: targetwoman

Wrist Drop Recovery Time

The time and chance of recovery from Radial Nerve Palsy depends on the location and gravity of the injury. Some patients may recover within a few hours while others take several days to be completely cured.

Most patients do not require any treatment and recover on their own. But an immediate cure is necessary in cases where the person suffers from acute pain and discomfort in the affected region.


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