Hand Doctor Discusses Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Hand Doctor Discusses Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition that causes numbness or tingling in your ring ringer and small finger, pain in your forearm, and/or weakness in your hand. The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome occur when something compresses or irritates one of the nerves in your arm.

There are three main nerves in your arm: the median, ulnar and radial nerves. All three nerves travel down from your neck into your arm, but each takes a different path. Cubital tunnel syndrome involves the ulnar nerve, which is the nerve that passes down the inside edge of your elbow, also known as your “funny bone.” When you hit your funny bone, you are actually hitting your ulnar nerve. The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome are similar to hitting your funny bone, except the symptoms do not go away in time.

On its way to your hand, the ulnar nerve goes through a narrow passage on the inside edge of your elbow, known as the cubital tunnel. Muscle, ligament and bone come together to form this tunnel. Your ulnar nerve supplies feeling to your little finger and the outside half of your ring finger.

Causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

There is very little padding over your ulnar nerve, which makes it vulnerable to pressure. Merely leaning your arm on an armrest can press against your ulnar nerve to make your little finger and ring finger “fall asleep.” Keeping the elbow bent for a long time, like when you are asleep, can stretch the nerve.

Sometimes your ulnar nerve does not stay in place and snaps over a boney bump as you move your elbow. Repeatedly snapping the nerve can irritate the ulnar nerve to cause symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome.

Thickened tissue can press against the ulnar nerve as it moves through the cubital tunnel.

Diagnosis and Treatment of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

A hand doctor can diagnose and treat cubital tunnel syndrome. Your hand specialist will ask you about your medical history, general health, work, activities and medications. The clinician will examine your arm and may order tests, such as x-rays and nerve conduction studies.

Non-surgical treatment involves avoiding pressure on the ulnar nerve, the use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), bracing or splinting, and nerve gliding exercises that prevent stiffness.

Surgery for cubital tunnel syndrome is sometimes necessary. A hand surgeon can now use a minimally invasive hand surgery technique known as endoscopic ulnar nerve decompression to treat cubital tunnel syndrome. Your hand surgeon may perform the technique in outpatient clinics after administering regional anesthesia instead of general anesthesia.

If you think you have cubital tunnel syndrome, consult with a hand doctor to learn more about the condition and its treatment.