Ulnar Nerve Entrapment (Cubital Tunnel Syndrome)

Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

Cubital tunnel syndrome describes a painful condition that can affect the elbows, arms, and hands by causing nerve compression. Also known as ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow, cubital tunnel syndrome can have several causes, including overuse or putting excess pressure on the elbow. Cubital tunnel syndrome can benefit from proactive treatment and an early diagnosis. 

For people whose work, hobbies, and daily activities are affected by cubital tunnel syndrome and ulnar nerve entrapment, there are effective treatments to help manage symptoms. Take a moment to read this brief and informative guide. If you have any questions or want to learn more about treatments, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team. 

Causes

The elbow is a critical joint that allows for almost all basic arm movements. However, there are also several nerves that must pass through this narrow passageway. When this condition begins to develop, a narrow tunnel tissue, called the cubital tunnel, becomes compressed. This can negatively affect the nerves that pass through it, including the ulnar nerve, which provides sensation and movement to the little finger and part of the ring finger. Entrapment of the ulnar nerve at the cubital tunnel is relatively common because there is little soft tissue to protect it, and bending movements along with pressure on the elbow can cause severe constriction.

Practicing a healthy lifestyle that includes taking regular breaks from repetitive motions and using proper arm posture are recommended ways to decrease the risk of developing cubital tunnel syndrome.

Specific causes that can lead to cubital tunnel syndrome developing in patients include:

  • Activities that involve repetitive bending of the elbow or keeping it bent for long periods of time
  • Elbow posture issues that put excessive pressure on the nerve, including sleeping positions 
  • Fluid buildup in the elbow puts pressure on the ulnar nerve
  • Joint inflammation due to arthritis or other inflammatory conditions

Conservative Treatment

After the diagnosis of cubital tunnel syndrome, doctors will usually first recommend conservative treatment options. Therapies for cubital tunnel syndrome relief include: 

  • Avoiding activities that require bending the elbow for extended periods of time
  • Taking over the counter medications to reduce inflammation
  • Physical therapy, including nerve gliding exercises, to relieve pain and limit painful mechanics
  • Elbow posture training to lessen the strain on the elbow during daily activities

Conservative options are often very effective in helping to manage this condition, but surgery may be recommended if symptoms do not improve despite attempting conservative therapy.

Symptoms

Commonly reported signs and symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:

  • Neuropathic symptoms from nerve compression include tingling, numbness, and a burning sensation, particularly in the little finger and ring finger
  • Radiating symptoms that travel down the arm
  • Weakness in the arm and hand
  • Inability to grip or perform fine motor functions

Neuropathic symptoms may be similar to other conditions, which is why it is important to see a qualified physician for diagnosis and treatment if any of the above sensations are persistent. 

Diagnosis

Untreated nerve compression has the potential to cause permanent nerve damage and can impede symptom relief. The earlier a physician can diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome, the better chance there is of developing an effective treatment plan. 

When working with a doctor to diagnose neuropathic symptoms that are potentially related to cubital tunnel syndrome and ulnar nerve entrapment, there are a number of normal steps patients can expect. The process should generally begin with a discussion of symptoms followed by a review of medical history. Patients should also expect a physical examination to test the range of motion and determine if some specific movements or positions cause symptoms. 

Diagnostic imagery and other tests, such as nerve conductivity studies, may also be ordered to rule out other conditions or confirm ulnar nerve entrapment in the cubital tunnel. 

Surgery

Types of surgery used to treat cubital syndrome include cubital tunnel release and ulnar nerve anterior transposition procedures. These types of surgery can be performed on an outpatient basis with small incisions and the use of direct visualization technology. The goal of the first procedure is to carefully enter the elbow and remove a small amount of tissue from the cubital tunnel to make space in the elbow and relieve ulnar nerve compression. In a transposition procedure, the ulnar nerve is moved to a new position in the elbow that prevents compression when bending or twisting. 

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Treatments at BEST Health System

At BEST Health System, we have a wide range of treatment options for cubital tunnel syndrome at our state-of-the-art facilities. Our compassionate and experienced team has extensive experience in helping people find relief from conditions affecting the elbows and other upper extremities. To learn more contact us today.

If you have experienced any of these symptoms or recieved a diagnosis and need treatment, BEST can help. Take the first step towards relief today.

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