Key Points about Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
- Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition that occurs when the ulnar nerve that runs along the inner part of the elbow becomes compressed.
- Common causes of cubital tunnel syndrome include repetitive movements of the elbow, leaning on your elbow, elbow injury, or previous elbow fracture or dislocations.
- Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include pain, loss of sensation, tingling or weakness or pins, or needles sensations in the rings or small fingers.
- Your doctor can diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome with a combination of a physical exam, symptom evaluation, and nerve testing.
- First-line therapy for cubital tunnel syndrome is avoiding the activity that causes pain. Surgery is necessary when pain is not relieved from conservative treatments after an extended period. Surgery involves removing pressure from the ulnar nerve.
Cubital tunnel syndrome is an orthopedic condition that occurs when pressure is placed on the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve, also commonly referred to as the funny bone nerve, runs along the inner part of your elbow.
When the ulnar nerve becomes compressed, you can experience numbness or tingling in your fingers, and pain or weakness in your hand and forearm.
Seek physician consultation if the symptoms are causing discomfort and start limited your activities. Early intervention and treatment are essential.
Cubital tunnel syndrome causes
Causes of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Bending the elbow repetitively in a pulling, reaching, or lifting movement.
- Leaning on your elbow
- Injury to the elbow.
- Bone spurs.
- Prior fracture or dislocation.
In some cases, the cause is unknown.
Cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms
Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Loss of sensation.
- Tingling or weakness in the hands and elbows.
- Pins and needles sensation in the ring and small fingers.
Cubital tunnel syndrome complications
Cubital tunnel syndrome can lead to long-term nerve damage in the hand if left untreated.
Cubital tunnel syndrome risk factors
There are a variety of risk factors associated with cubital tunnel syndrome, including:
- Prior elbow injuries such as elbow fracture or elbow dislocation.
- Arthritis in the elbow.
- Bone spurs in the elbow.
- Swelling or cysts on or around the elbow joint.
- Repetitive activities that require you to bend your elbow.
Cubital tunnel syndrome prevention
Cubital tunnel syndrome can be prevented by:
- Performing strengthening exercises to keep the arms flexible and strong.
- Avoid resting your elbows on a hard surface.
- Warm up before any activity such as tennis that requires repetitive movements.
Cubital tunnel syndrome diagnosis
Your primary care or orthopedic doctor can diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome. During a clinic visit, your doctor will take a full medical history, evaluate your symptoms, and perform a physical exam. In some cases, your doctor may order nerve testing to determine how severe the compression is and how much muscle is being affected.
Cubital tunnel syndrome treatment
First-line therapy for cubital tunnel syndrome is avoidance. Avoid any activities that cause symptoms. Other conservative treatments include:
- Wrapping your elbow at night to keep it from bending.
- Avoiding leaning on the funny bone.
- Wearing a protective pad over the funny bone during the day.
- Perform hand physical therapy exercises to relieve pressure on the nerve.
- Steroid injection directly into the affected area.
If conservative methods are not effective, many patients will experience symptom relief from surgery to release pressure on the ulnar nerve. Surgery may involve:
- Moving the nerve to the front of the elbow.
- Decompress the ulnar nerve.
- Move the nerve so that it sits under a layer of fat, under the muscle, or within the muscle.
- Remove the bump on the inner elbow where the ulnar nerve passes.
Recovery from surgery can take several months, and in severe cases, symptoms may never fully resolve.
When to seek care
If you have symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome that are affecting your daily activities, schedule an appointment with your doctor. Early intervention is essential to experiencing a full recovery from cubital tunnel syndrome.
Before your clinic visit, write down your symptoms, when they occur and when they are most severe. Also, list any questions you have about your condition.
If diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, follow your doctor's instructions carefully. If your symptoms worsen, call your doctor for the next steps.
If you had surgery, ask your doctor to clearly outline the recovery period and any expected side effects you may feel during recovery.