The Causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

While not as common as carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome (CTS) can cause its users discomfort. Tingling in the ring finger and small fingers, as well as clumsiness, pain, weakness, and swelling are classic symptoms of CTS. The pain is felt on the inside of the elbow closest to the chest.

Before getting into the causes of CTS, also referred to as ulnar nerve compression syndrome, it is helpful to have an understanding of the anatomy of the elbow. Located in the elbow, the cubital tunnel is a four millimeter passageway between your tissues and bones. This tunnel surrounds the ulnar nerve, which is one of your nerves responsible for supplying movement and feeling to your hand and arm.

The ulnar nerve is a long nerve. It runs all the down form the neck through the shoulder and back of the arm around the inside of the elbow and down to the fourth and fifth fingers where it ends.

What Causes Ulnar Nerve Compression Syndrome

CTC results from pinching (compression) of the ulnar nerve as it passes along cubital tunnel at the back of the elbow. The ulnar nerve can be easily injured or compressed as a result of injury, trauma, or repetitive activities.  There are three main causes of CTS:

Prolonged bending of the elbow. Many people sleep with their elbows bent or with their arms above their head. These sleeping positions keep the elbow bent for prolonged periods of time that stretch the nerve behind the elbow. This can lead to developing or the condition or aggravate existing CTS.

Pressure to the nerve.  While the ulnar nerve has some padding to protect it, direct pressure, such as resting your arm on an arm rest can press on the nerve. This causes your hand and arm for fall asleep, particularly the small fingers and ring finger.

Repeating snapping. If the ulnar nerve does not remain in its proper position and snaps back and forth over the bony elbow bump as the elbow is moved, the nerve can become irritated. Repeated snapping can cause extra muscle to develop over the nerve and cause it to work abnormally.

How is CTS Treated?

The first step in treating mild or occasional cases of CTS is to avoid putting pressure on the nerve or modifying activities that are believed to be the cause of it.

Keeping the elbow straight, or out of the bent position, is very helpful in many mild cases of the condition. Because the symptoms worsen at night, wearing a splint during sleep to keep the elbow straightened can help.

For people who a more severe cases or where conservative methods were unsuccessful, hand surgery might be needed.  CTS surgery can include endoscopic decompression of the ulnar nerve by a hand surgeon, trimming of the inner bump of the elbow, relocating the nerve to the front of the elbow or under a layer of fat or muscle, or cubital tunnel release.

If you have symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome, please give us a call at Florida Hand Center in Port Charlotte for a diagnosis and treatment plan.