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Ulnar Nerve Entrapment / Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when the ulnar nerve in the arm becomes compressed or irritated. The ulnar nerve is one of the three main nerves in by InstantSavings">your arm. It travels from your neck down on the back side of your elbow and into your hand to your little finger and part of your ring finger. This nerve can become pinched or constricted in several places along the way. Depending upon where it occurs, this pressure on the nerve can cause numbness or pain in your elbow, hand, wrist, or fingers.

Sometimes the ulnar nerve gets compressed at the wrist, beneath the collarbone, or as it comes out of the spinal cord in the neck. The most common place where the nerve gets compressed is behind the elbow. When the nerve compression occurs at the elbow, it is called "cubital tunnel syndrome."


There are several different causes of ulnar nerve entrapment or cubital tunnel syndrome. Some people have this nerve irritated from sleeping with their elbow bent or bending their elbow repetitively throughout the day. Leaning on your elbow for long periods of time can also cause the nerve to become irritated. A direct blow to the inside of the elbow can also cause irritation to the nerve and create and electric shock like feeling. This is sometimes referred to as "hitting your funny bone".


Some people refer to their hand or ring/little fingers falling asleep or having a numbing sensation. This occurs most often when the elbow is bent such as when they are sleeping, driving or holding a phone up to their ear. Weakening of the grip is also a symptom of ulnar nerve entrapment. In severe cases, muscle wasting or atrophy of the hand can occur. This is why it is extremely important to consult a physician should you have the above symptoms.


As with all diagnosis measures it is necessary to get a medical history in order to rule out other conditions. Your physician will examine your arm to determine which nerve is compressed. Your physician may also tap over the nerve (or funny bone as some people call it). Your elbow may also be checked to see if the ulnar nerve slides out of position when the elbow is bent. Other tests may be done on your shoulder or neck to rule out other nerve conditions and to see if any movements irritate the ulnar nerve. X-rays and Nerve Conduction Studies may also be done in order to positively diagnose ulnar nerve syndrome.


Usually conservative treatment is done initially to attempt to treat ulnar nerve entrapment. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen can be used to reduce swelling and inflammation around the nerve. Steroid injections may also be warranted to reduce inflammation around the nerve area. However there is a risk of damage to the nerves with steroid injections. Your physician may also suggest the use of a brace or splint while you sleep in order to keep your elbow from bending. Various therapeutic exercises may also help improve symptoms.

Surgical treatment is often necessary when conservative treatments have failed, the ulnar nerve is very compressed or when the compression is causing muscle wasting in the hand. There are a few different surgeries that can relieve pressure on the nerve at the elbow and your expert at SCCNS will talk with you about the option is best for you.

Our preferred method and the most common method is the Ulnar Nerve Transposition where the ulnar nerve is moved from its place behind the elbow to a new place in front of it.

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