Radial nerve roots originate from five spinal nerve roots that are located in the lower cervical (neck) and upper thoracic (upper back) segments of your spinal cord; these nerve roots eventually go on to form the radial nerve. Roots C5, C6, C7, C8 and T1 are all part of this group, each branching from the spinal cord before exiting the spinal column through the foramina, or the spaces between the vertebrae in your backbone. From there, these nerve roots become part of the brachial plexus, a mass of nerves that then splits off to innervate different regions in your upper body, including the arms, hands and upper back. The radial nerve is part of the brachial plexus.
Vital to everyday arm movements, the radial nerve extends from the side of the neck where nerve roots are located and then travels through the shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand – all while innervating adjacent tissues along its path. Damage to the spinal nerve roots giving rise to the radial nerve sometimes leads to pain, tingling, numbness or weakness in the back of the upper arm, the elbow, the forearm and the hand. Diagnosis of radial nerve damage can be difficult because the symptoms can indicate several conditions, such as lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow), radial tunnel syndrome (RTS), carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) or even a combination of these issues.
Radial nerve dysfunction can be caused by a number of factors, such as:
- Constant pressure under your arm
- Breaking your arm
- Consistent, long-term wrist constriction
- Constriction of the radial tunnel (the tunnel near your elbow through which your radial nerve passes)
- Constant twisting motions of the arm (such as twisting a screwdriver), which are often required in factory or technical work
- Upper arm compression caused from poor positioning during sleep (or coma)
- Any long-term pressure on the radial nerve, including swelling of adjacent bodily tissues
Keep in mind that the radial nerve roots comprise just one part of the complex brachial plexus arrangement of nerve fibers that travel through the arm and hand. Two other parts of the brachial plexus that are often damaged include the median nerve roots (associated with carpel tunnel syndrome) and the ulnar nerve roots (associated with the “funny bone”). If you think you might have a problem involving a nerve root, contact your primary care physician. He or she may start you on a regimen of non-invasive, conservative treatments, such as pain medication, heat therapy, cold therapy, arm/hand braces or massage. While many patients will find relief from these methods, others will need to seek more progressive treatment options.
If your shoulder, arm and hand nerve dysfunction is originating in the cervical spine and you are considering spinal surgery, contact Laser Spine Institute. We’d like to tell you about our minimally invasive procedures that have helped tens of thousands of people find relief from pain. We also can provide you with a review of your CT scan or MRI to determine your eligibility for one of our outpatient procedures.