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What is Radial Neuropathy?

By T. Broderick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Radial neuropathy is a nerve disorder of the peripheral nervous system that affects the arm. It presents as an intense version of having one's arm fall asleep. There are a number of common causes, all involving some sort of trauma to the arm's radial nerve. Though physical therapy can assist a person with radial neuropathy make best use of his or her arm, it is impossible to know how much if any nerve regeneration will occur over time.

Radial neuropathy carries some of the same symptoms of having an arm fall asleep, such as numbness on the back of the hand. A person with neuropathy finds difficulty in performing proper motor control of the hands and wrist. Also, the hand and wrist become numb. Unlike the arm falling asleep, the symptoms do not fade within a matter of minutes. This lack of quick recovery indicates some degree of permanent nerve damage.

Physical trauma is the cause of radial neuropathy. Trauma includes both physical injury and instances where the nerve is under pressure for a long period of time. The latter is the most specific cause of radial neuropathy. A person will fall asleep in an odd position, and due to any number of factors will not move his or her arm.

If one should experience the symptoms of radial neuropathy, visiting a general practitioner (GP) is the first step toward recovery. A GP will perform a general evaluation to determine the extent of the neuropathy before deciding whether the patient should see a physical therapist. The goal of physical therapy is to increase mobility and usefulness of the arm. Physical therapy does not speed up the nerve regeneration process.

No medical treatment can speed nerve regeneration. If regeneration occurs at all, the process may take years and not result in complete regeneration. Also, regained physical sensation may be much more sensitive to pain or not recognize extreme heat or cold. Regular visits to a GP allows someone with neuropathy to track his or her progress. A doctor may be able to provide treatments, for example medication, to treat neuropathic pain.

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