Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar neuropathy, is caused by increased pressure on the ulnar nerve, which passes close to the skin’s surface in the area of the elbow commonly referred to as the “funny bone”.  Cubital tunnel syndrome is not as well known as it’s relative (carpal tunnel syndrome) however it also can cause severe pain, numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness in the hands and arms.

You’re more likely to develop cubital tunnel syndrome if you:

  • Repeatedly lean on your elbow, especially on a hard surface
  • Bend your elbow for sustained periods, such as while talking on a cell phone or sleeping with your hand crooked under your pillow

There are five different sites in this region that can cause compression of the nerve in the Cubital Tunnel. As the nerve becomes compressed or entrapped, it produces pain, discomfort, numbness, and decreased hand strength.

Most people are familiar with the odd sensations felt when accidentally bumping this area, as brief numbness, tingling and shooting pain occur. Similar symptoms are experienced in Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, but they are experienced on a chronic level. Symptoms are most intense along the ulnar (inside) aspect of the forearm, often extending down into the ring and small fingers.

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
  • Claw-like deformity of the hand

Treatments for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Radial Tunnel Syndrome:

Cubital tunnel syndrome often can be managed conservatively, especially if electromyography 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, about 85% of patients respond to some form of surgery to release pressure on the ulnar nerve. These include surgeries that:

  • Result in simple decompression of the ulnar nerve
  • Shift the nerve to the front of the elbow
  • Move the nerve under a layer of fat, under the muscle, or within the muscle
  • Trim the bump of the inner portion of the elbow — the medial epicondyle — under which the ulnar nerve passes

If you exhibit symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, the Physicians and staff here at TOCA are here to help! Nerve testing may be prescribed to determine your level of compression . Your physician may also prescribe arm therapy to help alleviate the pain and improve function. Based on the severity of the condition, splinting, specific exercises, modalities, and other treatments can be initiated to assist in gliding the ulnar nerve and reducing compression to the area. More severe cases may require surgery to reduce pressure on the affected nerve.

For more information or to schedule an appointment call 602-277-6211.

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