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Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

It is a condition that is brought on by increased pressure on the ulnar nerve at the elbow.

The ulnar nerve passes directly below the “funny bone” where it is susceptible to pressure. When the pressure on the nerve becomes great enough to disturb the way the nerve works, then tingling, pain and numbness maybe felt in the elbow, forearm, hand and fingers.

Pressure on the ulnar nerve can occur from holding the elbow in a bent position for a long time, which stretches the nerve. Such sustained bending of the elbow can occur during sleep. Sometimes the connective tissue over the nerve becomes thickened and can cause pressure on the nerve.

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the pressure on the nerve is significant enough, and sustained for a sufficient period to disturb the way the ulnar nerve works.

Signs and symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms include pain, numbness and / or tingling.

The numbness or tingling most often occurs in the ring and little fingers. The symptoms are usually felt when there is pressure on the nerve, such as sitting with the elbow on an arm rest, or with repetitive elbow bending and straightening.

Often symptoms will be felt when the elbow is held in a bent position for a long period of time, such as whilst sleeping. Some patients may notice weakness while pinching, occasional clumsiness, and a tendency to drop things. In severe cases, sensation may be lost and the muscles in the hand may lose bulk and strength.

Diagnosis of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

The pattern and distribution of your symptoms will be assessed and you will be examined for muscle weakness, irritability of the nerve to tapping and bending of the elbow, and changes in sensation. Associated medical conditions may need to be evaluated such as diabetes.

A test called electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies may be done to confirm the diagnosis of cubital tunnel syndrome and its severity. This test also checks for other possible nerve problems, such as a pinched nerve in the neck, which may cause similar symptoms.

Treatment of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Symptoms may sometimes be relieved without surgery, particularly if the nerve conduction studies show that the pressure on the nerve is minimal. Reducing the pressure on the nerve may significantly reduce symptoms. Avoid putting your elbow on hard surfaces or wearing an elbow pad over the ulnar nerve and “funny bone” may help. Keeping the elbow straight at night with a splint also may help. A session with a specialist Hand Therapist to learn ways to avoid pressure on the nerve is usually necessary.

When symptoms are severe or do not improve, surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure on the nerve.

Following surgery, the recovery will depend on the type of surgery that was performed. Restrictions on lifting and / or elbow movement may be recommended. Hand Therapy may be necessary. The numbness and tingling may improve quickly or slowly, and it may take several months for the strength in the hand and wrist to improve.

Cubital tunnel symptoms may not completely resolve after surgery, especially in severe cases.

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