Man holding inner elbow

Ulnar Nerve/Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

The ulnar nerve carries sensation from the ring finger and little finger, and part of the palm and the back of the hand. It travels down inside of the arm to the hand and is used to control certain movements of the fingers and wrist.

What is cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve becomes compressed or irritated on the inner side of the elbow. This is where the nerve passes through the cubital tunnel, a narrow space with very little soft tissue to protect it. The cubital tunnel consists of the bones in your elbow and the forearm muscles, running across the elbow joint. It is important to get a diagnosis and treatment for the condition as soon as possible as in severe cases you can experience a permanent loss of sensation in your hand and weakness associated with reduction in the size and strength of the muscles in the hand and base of the little finger.


What causes cubital tunnel syndrome?

Pressure within the tunnel can start to restrict the nerve, resulting in painful symptoms. The causes of the condition are not always known but they might include arthritis, joint dislocations or fractures, thickening of the soft tissue or fluid retention due to pregnancy. Keeping the elbow bent for long periods of time – for example, when talking on the phone or sleeping – may exacerbate symptoms.


Symptoms

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a painful condition that produces a range of debilitating symptoms due to pressure on the ulnar nerve. These include:

  • Pain in the arm, hands and/or fingers
  • Tingling and numbness on the affected side
  • Symptoms that are worse at night or when the elbow is kept bent for extended periods
  • A weakened grip
  • Loss of dexterity when using the affected hand

Diagnosis of cubital tunnel syndrome

If your doctor or orthopaedic surgeon suspects you may have cubital tunnel syndrome you will be given a range of diagnostic tests. You may be asked to bend your elbow or your clinician may tap along the line of the nerve. Nerve tests may be used to check for nerve damage. There are two main types of nerve test:

  • A nerve conduction test (NCS) uses small electrodes that are placed on the skin. These release tiny electric shocks to stimulate your nerves. They measure the speed and strength of the electric signals by the nerve.
  • An electromyography (EMG) test involves inserting a very thin acupuncture-type needle into the muscle. It measure contraction of the muscle after the nerve is stimulated.

In addition, an ultrasound or MRI scan may also be used to assess the site of any nerve injury or if there is believed to be a structural aspect to the nerve compression.


Can it be treated?

There are a number of effective treatments for cubital tunnel syndrome, which range from simple at-home treatments and anti-inflammatories for mild cases through to surgery for more serious problems. We will cover the full range of treatments, including any potential risks, in a future blog.

If you are suffering from the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome seek help as soon as possible as early diagnosis and treatment will help to prevent the condition from worsening and able you to get back to your everyday activities as soon as possible. We are happy to discuss your particular circumstances whether or not you have received a definitive diagnosis for the condition.


Orthopaedic Consultant & Surgeon | London

Thames Shoulder & Elbow are able to provide advice and support to anyone experiencing symptoms affecting the upper limbs (shoulder, upper arm, elbow, forearm and wrist).

Telephone: 020 376 15987

Email: admin@thamesshoulderandelbow.co.uk

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