Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when the ulnar nerve (one of the three main nerves in the arm) becomes compressed or irritated.
The ulnar nerve travels from your neck down into your hand and can be constricted in several places along the way, such as beneath the collarbone or at the wrist. The most common place for compression of the nerve to take place is behind the inside part of the elbow. Ulnar nerve compression at the elbow is called Cubital Tunnel Syndrome.
Early symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Pain and numbness in the elbow
- Tingling, especially in the ring and little fingers
More severe symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Weakness affecting the ring and little fingers
- Decreased ability to pinch the thumb and little finger
- Decreased overall hand grip
- Muscle wasting in the hand
- Deformity of the hand
Sometimes, cubital tunnel syndrome results from abnormal bone growth in the elbow or from intense physical activity that increases pressure on the ulnar nerve. Baseball pitchers, for example, have an increased risk of cubital tunnel syndrome, because the twisting motion required to throw certain pitches can damage delicate ligaments in the elbow.
Cubital tunnel syndrome often can be managed conservatively, especially if testing reveals that there is minimal pressure on the ulnar nerve. Mild cases of cubital tunnel syndrome often respond to physical therapies such as:
- Avoidance of undue pressure on the elbow during daily activities
- Wearing a protective elbow pad over the “funny bone” during daily activities
- Wearing a splint during sleep to prevent over-bending of the elbow
In cases where splinting doesn’t help or nerve compression is more severe, then surgery to release pressure on the ulnar nerve may be considered.
If you undergo surgery for cubital tunnel syndrome, recovery may involve restrictions on lifting and elbow movement and rehabilitation therapy. Recovery of hand and wrist strength may take several months.
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