Cubital tunnel syndrome is the name given to a collection of symptoms generated by pressure on or inflammation of the ulnar nerve. Often quite painful, it results from injury or overuse. While surgery may be recommended for cubital tunnel syndrome, conservative hand treatment is often successful in cases of mild to moderate symptoms. Here’s some information on cubital syndrome, courtesy of the Florida Hand Center, with locations in Fort Myers and Port Charlotte.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Basics
The ulnar nerve begins in the side of the neck. It runs down the arm, passing through a “tunnel” of muscle, bone and ligaments on the inside of the elbow – the area sometimes referred to as the “funny bone.” If that area becomes narrowed due to injury or inflamed from overuse, it puts pressure on the nerve. Bone spurs and arthritis may cause narrowing of the tunnel, as can an injury such as a fracture or dislocation. Most cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, however, are the result of repeatedly bending the elbow or leaning on the elbow for long periods.
As with most nerve tunnels, the cubital tunnel is narrow, with just enough room for the nerve to slide back and forth. Any injury, swelling or inflammation puts pressure on the nerve, which is what causes the following symptoms:
- Aching pain on the inside of the elbow.
- Clumsiness and/or a weak grip on the affected side.
- Numbness and tingling in the hand, ring and little finger. This most often occurs when the elbow is bent.
- Pain in the hand.
The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome are distinctive and usually form the basis for a diagnosis. An X-ray can show the presence of bone spurs. To determine how fast electrical signals move up and down the nerve, your doctor may order a nerve conduction test. If the nerve is constricted or compressed, the signals will be slower than normal. Another option is the electromyelogram (EMG), which can evaluate nerve and muscle function.
Conservative Hand Treatment
In cases of mild to moderate cubital tunnel syndrome, conservative measures are usually the first choice. Rest and avoidance of repeated motion is the first step. A splint may be helpful to take pressure off the nerve. Certain exercises can help stretch the nerve and promote blood flow. Ergonomic training helps identify ways to avoid posture and positions that irritate the nerve. Like carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel symptoms may result from a deficiency in vitamin B6. Supplements may help relieve symptoms, but it can take several months.
Treating cubital tunnel syndrome is not a quick fix, especially if you want to avoid surgery. If conservative treatment fails, surgery may be your only remaining option. If you have cubital tunnel symptoms, please contact the Florida Hand Center for an assessment and hand treatment recommendations. You can reach us at 941-625-6547. We offer free hand screenings as well as many orthopedic and hand treatment options, including conservative, minimally invasive and surgical treatments.