Cubital Tunnel Syndrome/Ulnar Neuropathy2016-10-12T12:39:59-04:00

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome/Ulnar Neuropathy


What Is Ulnar Neuropathy?

Ulnar neuropathy, also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, puts pressure on the ulnar nerve each time the elbow is bent, reducing the supply of blood to the nerve. This causes damage to the nerve over time. Hitting the “funny bone” pulls the ulnar nerve into the bony groove of the cubital tunnel, causing the characteristic tingling sensation in the small and ring fingers.

A general weakening of the motor function of the hand may make it easy to drop things or make it difficult to open jars. It may be difficult to coordinate the fingers while typing or playing the guitar, piano, or violin. The problem usually worsens with activities or occupations that are practiced over an extended period of time.

A timely diagnosis is imperative to minimize functional impairment, limb weakness, loss of dexterity and pain.

Causes of Ulnar Neuropathy

The causes of ulnar neuropathy vary but often include some damage to the ulnar nerve. Causes may include:

  • Elbow fracture.
  • Elbow dislocation.
  • Severe twisting of the elbow.
  • Repetitive flexing of the elbow joint throughout the day.
  • Pressure on the ulnar nerve caused by swelling or injury of nearby structures in the arm.
  • Long-term pressure either on the elbow or the palms of the hands.

Symptoms of Ulnar Neuropathy

The most common symptoms of ulnar neuropathy include:

  • Abnormal sensations in the little finger and part of the ring finger, usually on the palm side.
  • Numbness or decreased sensation.
  • Pain.
  • Loss of coordination of the fingers.
  • Tingling, burning sensation.
  • Weakness and clumsiness of the hand.

Pain or numbness may awaken you from sleep. Activities such as tennis or golf may make the condition worse. Other activities that might make the pain more intense due to increased compression of the ulnar nerve include:

  • Holding a telephone.
  • Crossing your arms over your chest.
  • Placing hands on top of the steering wheel and driving for lengthy amounts of time.
  • Resting your head on your hand.
  • Using the computer for extended periods of time.

Treatment of Ulnar Neuropathy

At Sideline Orthopedics, we use a conservative approach in treating ulnar nerve compression. The goal of treatment is to restore the use of your hand and arm as quickly as possible. Primary treatment of ulnar neuropathy includes anti-inflammatory medications. A nerve pain medication, such as gabapentin, can be used to help calm the irritated nerve. A splint may be offered as a solution to both prevent further injury of the elbow and provide symptom relief.

A corticosteroid injection placed into the affected area may be offered to relieve pain. The purpose of the injection is to reduce the swelling and pressure on the compressed nerve.

Surgical Treatment for Ulnar Neuropathy

Surgery for ulnar neuropathy, or cubital tunnel, is reserved for patients who have extremely limited use of their affected arm and hand, along with the muscle weakness or wasting symptomatic of nerve compression. The goal of surgery is to relieve the pressure on the nerve. Once surgical recovery is achieved, our patients engages in physical therapy exercises to restore or maintain muscle strength.

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