Why Elbow Brace Can Worsen Your Elbow Pain? ( Radial Tunnel Syndrome )
Having a painful elbow? Radial Tunnel Syndrome (RTS) happens when your radial nerve is compressed or irritated by tight muscles in your forearm. However,
Radial Tunnel Syndrome is always confused with Tennis Elbow, as their symptoms are very similar.
What’s more, it is not uncommon to see people have these two problems at the same time, which easily makes RTS being ignored or miss-diagnosed in early stage.
⭐ Where is Radial Tunnel ?
Radial Tunnel is located at outside your forearm. It’s close to the elbow (humeroradial joint), and the tunnel is formed by muscles (supinator) and bone (radius).
As you can see, radial tunnel is a tight space which allows your radial nerve to pass from your upper arm through elbow and forearm. If the tunnel is too small, it can squeeze the nerve and cause pain.
Repetitive, forceful pushing and pulling, bending of the wrist, gripping, and pinching can also stretch and irritate the nerve.
Sometimes a direct blow to the outside of the elbow can injure the radial nerve.
Constant twisting movements of the arm, common in assembly work, can also pinch the radial nerve and lead to RTS.
The picture above clearly showed the differences of tennis elbow and RTS tederness, RTS can make elbow pain radiate to the outside your forearm and wrist area.
* Furthermore, RTS may also cause more fatigue in the muscles of your forearm.
⭐ Self-Therapy Tips
✨ NO strap type elbow brace! As you can see, the strap will only compress your radial tunnel more and make RTS worse.
(So if you feel more pain or fatigue with a tennis elbow strap on, it is very likely you are suffering RTS at the same time!)
✨ Avoid repetitive activities that require your wrist to be repeatedly bent backwards, or in twisting motions (such as using a screwdriver) also make the problem worse. (Hence, the wrist brace can be helpful to support your wrist in all kinds of activities which requiring repetitive wrist motions.)
✨ Self-Massage for upper trapezius, deltoids, wrist extensors & supinators muscles.
✨ The rehab exercises for Tennis Elbow are beneficial to RTS as well!
✨ Radial Nerve Gliding Exercises should be added to relief the stress of radial nerve!
* Exercises sheet credit: HB Hands ; Video Credit: Paul Marquis PT
In Summary, Radial Tunnel Syndrome is a nerve compression issue in your proximal forearm. When RTS is getting worse without therapy, it can damage your radial nerve, eventually lead to severe wrist and fingers extensor muscles weakness!
Last but not the least, always pay attention to your symptoms. If you suspect RTS is happening, feel free to ask your hand therapists, or specialists , so we can help to identify it and start treatments early!
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8 thoughts on “Why Elbow Brace Can Worsen Your Elbow Pain? ( Radial Tunnel Syndrome )”
I have been using computers for past 17 years and for the past 5 yrs have been suffering a lot due to pain in the forearm. But thanks to your article and the exercises, this is helping me to some extent. I hope there Is there a permanent solution here.
Thanks for your feedback, if you use computer a lot, regular breaks and exercises are essential even if you have a great ergonomic work environment. Please check out my articles here http://rehabforbetterlife.com/2017/08/five-minutes-only-six-must-do-office-stretching-exercises/?lang=en
Is forearm strengthening beneficial? Or not until symptoms have subsided by using brace, rest, nerve glides, and stretching?
Hi it depends on what kind of forearm strengthening you are talking about? Pronation/Supination?
For radial tunnel syndrome, stretching, manual therapy for muscular release and resting with brace is more important.
I won’t do any strengthening when you still have symptoms.
Do you have any research articles on radial tunnel syndrome from using an elbow brace for lateral epicondylitis? I am an occupational therapist looking for resources for my clinic.
It’s mainly based on my clinical experience, usually patient will complain the tennis elbow strap is not helping, or even making the elbow/forearm more painful. Sorry no research articles I can find either.
I thought I had tennis elbow, but now after doing some research, I actually think it’s RTS. I understand your explanation of why a tennis elbow strap can make the problem worse. Is a compression sleeve helpful for this kind of problem? Something like: Incrediwear arm sleeve or Pro-Tec 3D Flat Elbow Sleeve (links below)? I’ve been wearing the latter…just want to make sure it’s not making things worse. Thanks!
Yes compression sleeve can help, as long as it’s not a “strap” that only compress the certain area, it’s actually a good idea using compression sleeve, I sometimes give my patients such sleeve for pain relief as well! Hope you will recover soon!
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