What is cubital tunnel syndrome?
Cubital tunnel syndrome is the second most common nerve entrapment syndrome (second to carpal tunnel syndrome). The condition occurs when pressure is put on the ulnar nerve in the elbow. The ulnar nerve runs along the back of the arm, around the elbow joint, and along the outside of the arm (following the ulnar bone). The cubital tunnel is the name for the channel in the elbow that the ulnar nerve passes through. Pressure on the ulnar nerve can impair the ulnar nerve’s function, causing numbness, tingling, and pain in the fingers, hand, forearm, and elbow.
What causes cubital tunnel syndrome to develop?
The immediate problem is always pressure on the ulnar nerve at the elbow. However, what causes this pressure can vary. In some patients, the ulnar nerve may repeatedly slip over the bony protrusion of the elbow, causing nerve irritation. In other patients, ulnar nerve compression could be caused by regular and prolonged bending of the elbow. Some physicians have started to call this condition “cell phone elbow.” Other patients may develop cubital tunnel syndrome when the tissues around the nerve grow thicker, putting pressure on the ulnar nerve.
What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?
Typical symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include pain, numbness, or tingling in the fingers – especially in the ring and little finger. Other patients may experience grip weakness or even atrophy (shrinking) of the hand muscles. These symptoms may only be felt when the elbow is in a bent position (e.g. sitting at a desk, typing, sleeping, or holding a phone). Some patients may experience symptoms when the elbow is at rest.
How can I alleviate the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?
Patients with symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome should avoid any activity that causes symptoms. Additionally, sleeping with an elbow splint or a towel wrapped around the elbow can help alleviate symptoms by keeping the arm from straight (fully extended) all night. Protecting the “funny bone” and keeping pressure off the elbow may also alleviate symptoms.
How is cubital tunnel syndrome treated?
If these home remedies and lifestyle changes are not successful in alleviating your symptoms, then your orthopaedic surgeon at Hedley Orthopaedic Institute may recommend cubital tunnel release surgery. During surgery, the ulnar nerve may be shifted around to the front of the elbow, where it can be buried under layers of fat or muscle for protection. Another surgical procedure involves trimming the medial epicondyle, the bump at the base of the humerus (arm bone).
Rest, ice, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and steroid injections may also be used to help manage symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome.
Meet With a Hand Surgeon in Phoenix, Mesa or Tempe
At Hedley Orthopaedic Institute, your hand surgeon will discuss all of your options for cubital tunnel syndrome relief. Other treatment options in addition to those listed on this page may be available. To schedule an appointment with an orthopaedic surgeon in Phoenix, Tempe, or Mesa, contact us.