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A Series of Tubes: Where Nerves in Your Arms Are at Risk

Posted Jan 26 2009 5:16pm

Do you remember that faux pas made by Ted Stevens, the corrupt Alaska Senator, when he tried to explain how the Internet worked? “The Internet is not a dump truck,” he stammered, “it’s a series of tubes.”

He earned a lot of ridicule, because it’s not a very accurate explanation for Internet traffic. However, it is a decent analogy for the problems behind Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, as well as lesser known Radial Tunnel Syndrome.

Last week I did a short series on
">Thoracic Outlet Syndrome
. The Thoracic Outlet is one area where nerves and blood flow through a small enclosure, and can be impinged by swelling or poor posture. Radial Tunnel Syndrome and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome have similar problems.

Your radial nerve is one that passes through the Thoracic Outlet. Further down, just below your elbow, on its outside region, your radial nerve then passes through another small enclosure among muscle, tendons and ligaments – the Radial Tunnel. Just like in the Thoracic Outlet, any swelling that occurs in this area can pinch on the nerves, causing pain, tingling and numbness if the problem is prolonged.

Then again in the Carpal Tunnel, your nerves pass through another small enclosure. This time, it’s mostly bones surrounding the nerves – the wrist bones connect with several small bones of the hand. The nerves are tucked in here, and then overlaid with the long muscles of your palm that help you bring your thumb to your pinky.

Literally, there is no where for the nerves to go. If the wrist is used in an improper posture, the nerves can be pinched. If swelling results, it pinches the nerves even further.

Of these three syndromes, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is probably the easiest to diagnose because its effects are more confined.

However, with Radial Tunnel Syndrome and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, the pain often radiates and is felt further down the arm. Symptoms are often confused with other problems. For example, someone with Radial Tunnel Syndrome may mistakenly be diagnosed with Tennis Elbow (aka Epicondylitis or Golfer’s Elbow), which is actually a swelling of the tendon rather than a nerve problem. Someone suffering with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome may have pains throughout the arm, leading to confusing symptoms.

To learn more about Radial Tunnel Syndrome, take a read on this detailed description by Marji Hajic, an Occupational Therapist and Certified Hand Therapist.

Possibly related posts:

  1. What Is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome? (Part 1 of 2)
  2. Recognizing and Treating Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (Part 2 of 2)
  3. Carpal Tunnel Research and Treatment — Is It Genetic?

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