Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

by Alex Hirsch (SU)

For anyone who has hit the back of their elbow against a hard object, they’ve learned that the “funny bone” doesn’t feel so funny. Imagine waking up every day with the same feeling that lasts for several minutes.

That is one of the symptoms caused by cubital tunnel syndrome, the second most common type of peripheral nerve entrapment in the body – it affects the ulnar nerve. It ranks only behind carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the median nerve.

What Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

In cubital tunnel syndrome, the ulnar nerve has been squeezed, irritated, or injured. The ulnar nerve runs from the side of the neck down the arm, behind the elbow, out into the front of the elbow, and down to the pinky and ring fingers. Compression or “entrapment” tends to occur at the elbow.

The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome vary from person to person, but they generally include numbness and tingling in the hands – specifically in the pinky and ring fingers when the elbow is bent. It can also cause pain in those fingers and in the hand, and this can affect both the strength and agility of the person’s grip.

Another common sign of ulnar entrapment is an ache or pain radiating from the inside of the elbow.

How Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Most orthopedists use a combination of a physical exam, analyzing the patient’s complete medical history, and having diagnostic tests to verify the condition. One of those tests may include a nerve conduction test, which measures the rate at which nerve signals travel. This helps the physician to determine whether the nerve is compressed or constricted somewhere. 

An electromyogram (EMG) checks both nerve and muscle function and also tests the muscles of the forearm controlled by the ulnar nerve. An X-ray may be completed to determine whether bone spurs or arthritis is causing nerve compression.

Treatment for Nerve Entrapment

There are many methods used to treat cubital tunnel syndrome and the associated nerve entrapment. The first recommendation will be to rest the elbow and wrist area, which can be difficult to do.

If the symptoms don’t subside, the doctor may recommend that you wear a brace or splint when sleeping or working in order to limit the elbow’s movements. The orthopedist may also recommend wearing an elbow pad to protect it from hard surfaces. They may also recommend corticosteroid injections and physical therapy on the hands to help restore normal function.

If the measures explained above are unsuccessful, your orthopedist may recommend surgery to release the pressure on the ulnar nerve caused by the cubital tunnel. Your surgeon may relocate the nerve or remove any pieces of bone that may be causing the condition. 

Orthopedic Surgeons in the Tri-Cities, Tennessee

If you or someone close to you is experiencing tingling hands and fingers, it may be a result of some type of nerve impingement or cubital tunnel syndrome. 

Contact us at Watauga Orthopaedics by calling (423) 282-9011 or request a consultation online. It’s time to get your hands in good working order and feeling normally again.