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Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Definition:

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition that develops due to compression or pressure on the ulnar nerve, which runs just below the skin’s surface along the medial elbow, also known as the “funny bone”.

Causes:

Cubital tunnel syndrome — also known as ulnar neuropathy — is caused by increased pressure on the ulnar nerve. Sometimes, cubital tunnel syndrome results from abnormal bone growth in the elbow or from intense physical activity that increases pressure on the ulnar nerve. Baseball pitchers, for example, have an increased risk of cubital tunnel syndrome. Other causes can be as simple as leaning on your elbow on a hard surface or bending your elbow for sustained periods of time, such as when talking on a cell phone or sleeping with your hand under your pillow.

Symptoms:

Early symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome can include pain and numbness in the elbow and tingling, especially in the ring and pinky fingers. Severe symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome can include:

  • Weakness affecting the ring and little fingers
  • Decreased ability to pinch the thumb and little finger
  • Decreased overall hand grip
  • Muscle wasting in the hand
  • Claw-like deformity of the hand
Treatment:

Mild cases of cubital tunnel syndrome often respond to:

  • Avoidance of undue pressure on the elbow during daily activities
  • Wearing a protective elbow pad over the “funny bone” during daily activities
  • Wearing a splint during sleep to prevent over-bending of the elbow
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Corticosteroid injections
  • Physical therapy for education about reducing stress, nerve-gliding, stretching/strengthening exercises as well as heat, cold and ultrasound

In cases where splinting doesn’t help or nerve compression is more severe, about 85% of patients respond to some form of surgery to release pressure on the ulnar nerve. These include surgeries that:

  • Shift the nerve to the front of the elbow
  • Move the nerve under a layer of fat, under the muscle, or within the muscle
  • Trim the bump of the inner portion of the elbow — the medial epicondyle — under which the ulnar nerve passes
Elbow pain may be caused by tendinitis, bursitis, fractures, sprains, arthritis, cellulitis, tumors, and ulnar nerve entrapment.
South Sound Physical & Hand Therapy Pain Guide