Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: A Common Nerve Injury

According to Postgraduate Medical Journal, cubital tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a common peripheral nerve compression injury. In fact, it’s believed to be  the second most common peripheral nerve entrapment injury that people experience. It’s not, however, as common as carpal tunnel syndrome. Fortunately, it can be treated, both with conservative treatment and surgery.

What Exactly is Cubical Tunnel Syndrome?

While it has a unique sounding name, the condition involves stretching, pressure, and compression of the ulnar nerve. You are familiar with the ulnar nerve if you have ever had tingling or numbness in your fingers when you hit your “funny bone”. THe ulnar nerve runs along side the inner part of your elbow.

A number of causes can contribute to you developing cubital tunnel syndrome including:

  • Consistently leaning on elbow for sustained periods of time, which places pressure on the nerve.
  • Fluid buildup on your elbow, which causes it to swell and compress the nerve.
  • A direct hit to the elbow, commonly referred to as hitting your funny bone.
  • Bending your elbow for extended periods of time, while sleeping or talking on the phone for example.
  • Repeatedly performing twisting motions that impacts the ligaments in the elbow.
  • Abnormal bone growth on the elbow.

Treatment Methods for CTS

When the condition is mild, the first course of treatment is for you to avoid the activities that cause your symptoms. If sleeping is the cause of your symptoms, then wearing a splint at night or even wrapping a towel around your elbow can help to keep from bending your elbow.Computer users can be careful not to rest their elbow on the arm rest, and raising the chair can help with this. In addition, refraining from leaning on the elbow can help.

When conservative treatments methods do not relieve your CTS symptoms or when there is severe nerve damage, surgery may be recommended. Surgery is performed by a hand surgeon to relieve the pressure on the ulnar nerve. It involves “releasing” the nerve, removing a portion of the bone, and or relocating the nerve to the front of the elbow.

In many cases, endoscopic ulnar nerve decompression, a minimally-invasive procedure, is the recommended surgery for CTC. In this procedure, the nerve is not relocated, nor are tendons or muscles cut. Instead, once the ulnar nerve is located, it is freed through a small incision. An endoscope is used to guide the procedure. The endoscopic ulnar nerve decompression is an outpatient procedure that typically involves using a regional anesthetic.

Physical therapy may be needed following surgery, and it may take several months of recovery since nerves recover slowly.

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