Cubital tunnel syndrome (also known as ulnar neuropathy) is a condition that affects the wrist, arm or elbow, and can cause numbness, tingling, muscle weakness of the hands and arms and sometimes severe pain. Much like its better-known relative, carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel syndrome (which is often mistakenly called “ulnar tunnel syndrome”) is caused by irritation of the ulnar nerve at the elbow. This typically is caused by pressure on the nerve or by the nerve not remaining in its normal position, but moving in an out of its “tunnel” at the elbow.
If you are suffering from cubital tunnel syndrome, or have symptoms that indicate you may have the condition, it is important to seek treatment as soon as possible. At the Hand Surgery Center of Excellence, our team of expert orthopedic surgeons specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of conditions of the hand, and can help you achieve recovery. To speak with a board-certified hand surgeon in Los Angeles, please don’t hesitate to contact our outpatient surgery center.
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What Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Because cubital tunnel syndrome occurs as a result of increased or repeated pressure on the ulnar nerve, it can cause extreme pain in the hand, wrist and elbow. In patients with this condition, the hand suffers from ulnar nerve compression (also known as ulnar nerve entrapment or ulnar nerve neuropathy), in which the nerve becomes irritated and trapped. The ulnar nerve is known as the “funny bone,” and pressure can cause discomfort and an electric shock sensation in the hand.
Cubital tunnel syndrome can be caused by an abnormal bone growth within the elbow or from intense physical activity, especially among athletes. Baseball pitchers are at an increased risk of developing cubital tunnel syndrome, as they constantly use a twisting motion in their arms that can cause damage to ligaments in the elbows. Additionally, activities that involve bending your elbow for extended periods of time (such as sleeping with your arm crooked or talking on your cell phone) or repeatedly leaning your elbow on a hard surface can also increase your risk for developing cubital tunnel syndrome.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms
Common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Pain or numbness in the elbow or wrist
- Tingling in the hand and fingers
More severe symptoms of cubital tunnel can involve:
- Inability to pinch forefinger and thumb
- Reduced overall ability to grip with the hand
- Weakness in the little and ring fingers
- Muscle wasting of the hand
- Claw-like formation of the hand
Less severe cases of cubital tunnel syndrome can be treated with conservative methods, but if you are experiencing any of the above severe symptoms, you may need to undergo surgical treatment.
Non-Surgical Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
In less severe cases, it is possible for cubital tunnel syndrome to go away on its own. However, medical treatment may be necessary to alleviate pain and prevent the condition from worsening. Some common ulnar nerve pain treatment options include:
Steroids – These injections are used to help decrease the pain and swelling associated with cubital tunnel syndrome.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) – These can be purchased over the counter, but it is important to consult with your doctor to see if this medicine is right for you and how much you should take.
Elbow splint or brace – Wearing a brace can help keep the pressure off your ulnar nerve, and is used as a common ulnar nerve neuropathy treatment.
Ice application – Your doctor may recommend icing the area to reduce pain and swelling, and help prevent tissue damage. Typically, a doctor will recommend icing the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour, depending on the severity of your condition.
Physical therapy – A hand specialist may recommend physical therapy to help improve and increase muscle strength and movement. This treatment may or may not be used in conjunction with surgical treatment.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Surgery
For severe cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, or for cases that do not improve with conservative treatment methods, cubital tunnel syndrome surgery may be necessary. At the Hand Surgery Center of Excellence, our expert surgeons specialize in a cutting-edge procedure called cubital tunnel release surgery.
Cubital tunnel release surgery is used to treat ulnar nerve compression, and is similar to carpal tunnel release in that an incision is made over the area of the compression. The incision is typically made over the medial aspect of the elbow on the affected side. Your surgeon will release the compressed nerve and either move it to a more natural position or release the roof overhead.
Because cubital tunnel release surgery is performed through a minimally invasive technique, it can be done on an outpatient basis, and patients can go home the same day as their surgery.
Contact an Expert Hand Surgeon in Los Angeles
If you suffer from cubital tunnel syndrome and are interested in learning more about cubital tunnel release surgery or other treatment options, please don’t hesitate to contact the Hand Surgery Center of Excellence. Our board-certified orthopedic and plastic surgeons studied in top programs, and are experts in state-of-the-art procedures for treating conditions of the hand.
You can schedule a consultation today by calling (888) 529-1873 or by filling out our online contact form.
Next, learn about recovery from release surgery.