Definition

What is cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, is a condition occurs when the ulnar nerve in the arm becomes compressed or irritated. The ulnar nerve, which 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, is one of the three main nerves in your arm. It is found that the most common place for compression of the nerve is behind the inside part of the elbow.

Numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers are some common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with conservative treatments like changes in activities and bracing. If conservative methods do not improve your symptoms, or if the nerve compression is causing muscle weakness or damage in your hand, surgery is recommended by your doctor. 

 

How common is cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome is the second most common peripheral nerve entrapment syndrome in the human body. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause an aching pain on the inside of the elbow. Most of the symptoms, however, occur in your hand.

Numbness and tingling in the ring finger and little finger

These signs are considered as the most common symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment. Often, these symptoms come and go. They happen more often when the elbow is bent, such as when driving or holding the phone. Some people wake up at night because their fingers are numb.

The feeling of “falling asleep” in the ring finger and little finger

In some cases, it may be harder to move your fingers in and out, or to manipulate objects.

Weakening of the grip and difficulty with finger coordination

These symptoms are usually seen in more severe cases of nerve compression.

If the nerve is very compressed or has been compressed for a long time, muscle wasting in the hand can occur. Once this happens, muscle wasting cannot be reversed.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes cubital tunnel syndrome?

There are some factors that can cause pressure to increase on the nerve at the elbow:

  • When you bend your elbow, the ulnar nerve must stretch around the boney ridge of the medial epicondyle. Because this stretching can irritate the nerve, keeping your elbow bent for long periods or repeatedly bending your elbow can cause painful symptoms. For example, many people sleep with their elbows bent. This can aggravate symptoms of ulnar nerve compression and cause you to wake up at night with your fingers asleep.
  • In some people, the nerve slides out from behind the medial epicondyle when the elbow is bent. Over time, this sliding back and forth may irritate the nerve.
  • Leaning on your elbow for long periods of time can also put pressure on the nerve.
  • Fluid buildup in the elbow can cause swelling that may compress the nerve.
  • A direct blow to the inside of the elbow can cause pain, electric shock sensation, and numbness in the little and ring fingers.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for cubital tunnel syndrome?

You may get a higher risk of this condition if you have these following factors:

  • Prior fracture or dislocations of the elbow
  • Bone spurs/ arthritis of the elbow
  • Swelling of the elbow joint
  • Cysts near the elbow joint
  • Repetitive or prolonged activities that require the elbow to be bent or flexed

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is cubital tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects that you may experience this condition, a physical examination will be performed and then several tests will be also ordered by him/her. A nerve conduction study and a test called electromyography will be recommended. Electromyography is a procedure in which electrodes placed into muscles and on the skin measure the health of muscles and the nerve cells that control them, to confirm the diagnosis, identify the area of nerve damage, and determine the severity of the condition.

How is cubital tunnel syndrome treated?

Depending on the severity of the condition, the treatments options will be determined by your doctor:

In mild cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, It can 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.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage cubital tunnel syndrome?

You can make many lifestyle changes to decrease your risk of developing this condition. Here are some useful tips you should follow:

  • Avoid activities that require you to keep your arm bent for long periods of time.
  • If you use a computer frequently, make sure that your chair is not too low. Do not rest your elbow on the armrest.
  • Avoid leaning on your elbow or putting pressure on the inside of your arm. For example, do not drive with your arm resting on the open window.
  • Keep your elbow straight at night when you are sleeping. This can be done by wrapping a towel around your straight elbow or wearing an elbow pad backwards.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: August 10, 2017 | Last Modified: August 10, 2017

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