The origin of "Saturday night palsy"?

Robert J. Spinner, Michael B. Poliakoff, Robert L. Tiel, David G. Kline, Michel Kliot

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


THE TERM Saturday night palsy has become synonymous with radial nerve compression in the arm resulting from direct pressure against a firm object. It typically follows deep sleep on the arm, often after alcohol intoxication. The commonly accepted origin of the phrase is the association of Saturday night with carousing. We offer an alternate explanation: we think that the term Saturday night palsy was introduced mistakenly as a simplification of saturnine palsy (much like the way the word palsy was shortened from paralysis). Saturnine palsy, which is a relatively common complication of lead poisoning, has the same clinical presentation of radial nerve compression, and Saturday night palsy even sounds like saturnine palsy. Moreover, Saturday, lead, carousing, and alcohol are associated with each other through their connection to Saturn, the Roman god of agriculture, which encourages the association of the two syndromes with one another.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)737-741
Number of pages5
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1 2002


  • Etymology
  • Lead poisoning
  • Radial nerve
  • Saturday night palsy
  • Saturnine palsy
  • Sleep palsy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Surgery
  • Clinical Neurology


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