Wrist Drop

Wrist drop, also referred to as “drop wrist” or “Saturday night palsy,” is a condition characterized by the inability to extend or lift the wrist and fingers. Typically caused by nerve compression or trauma, such as prolonged pressure on the radial nerve, this condition manifests as weakness and paralysis in the muscles responsible for extending the hand.

Wrist drop is not uncommon and can potentially be reversed if promptly treated. If left untreated, wrist drop may lead to persistent weakness, muscle atrophy, and functional impairment. The Center for Hand and Upper Extremity Surgery is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for individuals with wrist drop, offering specialized expertise in diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation to ensure optimal outcomes.

Treatments for Wrist Drop

The main goals of treating wrist drop are restoring strength and mobility to the affected hand and fingers. Treatment may involve both non-surgical and surgical approaches if nerve compression or damage is severe.

Non-Surgical Treatments


Corticosteroids like prednisone to reduce inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories can also alleviate swelling.

Splinting or Bracing

Splinting the wrist in a neutral position prevents further joint contractures.

Physical Therapy

Stretching, exercises, and massage help maintain range of motion and help treat muscle atrophy.

Surgical Treatments

Nerve Decompression Surgery

Nerve decompression surgery involves surgically removing ligaments, scar tissue, muscle compression, or bone spurs constricting the radial nerve. This alleviates nerve compression.

Nerve Graft Surgery

During a nerve graft surgery, damaged radial nerve tissue is replaced with a graft of healthy nerve tissue, allowing nerve regeneration. Surgeons may harvest donor grafts from other parts of the body.

Tendon Transfer Surgery

Tendon transfer surgery involves the surgical rerouting of a working tendon to restore function to a paralyzed finger or wrist muscle. This compensates for radial nerve damage.

Why Patients Trust the Center for Hand & Upper Extremity Surgery

Collectively, our reconstructive surgeons perform hundreds of upper extremity surgeries each year, mastering techniques specially designed for the intricate anatomy of the wrist, hands, and fingers. Our advanced out-patient surgery centers provide patients with access to state-of-the-art diagnostics and treatments in a more private environment that ensures the highest standards of patient safety, quality, and continuity of care.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you experience wrist drop symptoms like a limp, paralyzed hand and inability to extend the wrist and fingers, it's important to see a doctor promptly. Because wrist drop indicates an issue with the radial nerve, timely medical evaluation and treatment is key to maximize the chances of full recovery. Waiting too long with nerve compression can lead to permanent nerve damage and impaired hand function.

Frequently Asked Questions

What causes wrist drop?

The most common cause is compression or trauma to the radial nerve in the arm. This nerve controls wrist and finger extension. Common causes are falling asleep on the arm, fractures, wearing tight casts/braces, and repetitive motion injuries.

Who is at risk for developing it?

People at risk include those who repeatedly rest their arm over hard surfaces, have jobs with repetitive wrist motions, experience direct arm trauma, or wear constrictive braces. Being male, middle age, and overweight also increase risk.

How is wrist drop diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose it through physical exams checking wrist extension strength, reflexes, and looking for sensory loss. Electromyography tests measure nerve conduction. Imaging like MRI scans check for trapped nerves.

What is the long-term outlook after treatment?

With prompt treatment, full recovery is common if nerve damage is mild. If nerves are severely compressed for too long before treatment, some permanent weakness or functional impairment may remain. However, therapy often restores good hand and wrist use.

How long does it take to recover after treatment?

With appropriate treatment, mild cases can recover wrist extension and strength within a few months. More severe cases may require several months to regain function, or longer if nerve damage is permanent.

Can I do activities while recovering from wrist drop?

Avoid activities that strain the affected arm. Your doctor will provide guidelines on using your wrist and hand during recovery to prevent reinjury. Gentle, limited use may be allowed as your condition improves.

HUES Surgeons

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