What is the Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
The cubital tunnel is a structure which the ulnar nerve passes through. This long nerve travels from the cervical spine through the inside of the upper arm and through the inside of the elbow at the cubital tunnel (known as the “funny bone”). From this point, the nerve continues down the arm and into the hand where it provides sensation and motor function to the pinky and ring finger.
Symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when the ulnar nerve becomes compressed or entrapped. When this occurs, pain, numbness, pins and needles and the possible inability to move the little and ring finger may occur. It is not known what exactly causes the compression that entraps the ulnar nerve, but prior injury of the elbow, resting the elbow on things for long periods of time, holding a phone up to your ear for hours a day, overuse, cysts and bone spurs are likely reasons. Symptoms may be inconsistent throughout the day or they may be constant. If symptoms become constant you should seek medical evaluation sooner than later as it is harder to restore normal function the longer the symptoms are constant.
Treatments for Ulnar Nerve Entrapment
Physical therapy is often a good starting place to work on stretching and strengthen the ligaments and tendons in the hands and elbows. Depending on the severity of the entrapment, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, pain relievers possible cortisone injection can be performed to reduce pain and inflammation. Wearing splints to help immobilize the elbow may also be recommended at night such as night splints.
There are two surgical approaches to treat ulnar nerve entrapment. These surgeries are commonly performed together for the same issue. Both are outpatient procedures and patients are able to resume their normal activities in about 8-12 weeks.
Ulnar Nerve Transposition
The first is an ulnar nerve transposition which moves the nerve from its place behind the elbow to a new place in front of the elbow. This is the most common procedure to treat an ulnar nerve entrapment.
Cubital Tunnel Release
The second surgery is simply a cubital tunnel release, which essentially just releases the tissue that is entrapping the nerve.