CUBITAL TUNNEL SYNDROME
If you suffer from chronic pain or weakness related to cubital tunnel syndrome, don’t hesitate to Schedule an appointment with one of our orthopedic specialists.
The common cause between both of these syndromes involves pressure causing compression on a nerve in the arm or elbow. In the majority of cases, patients can manage cubital tunnel syndrome with simple conservative treatments, while more severe cases may still require surgery to return to normalcy.
What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar neuropathy to Hand and Wrist Specialists, arises from an increased pressure on the ulnar nerve, which passes through the small hollow of the elbow commonly known as the “funny bone.” Patient have a higher risk of developing Cubital Tunnel Syndrome if they:
- Lean on their elbow often, especially on hard surfaces
- Leave the elbow bent for prolonged periods of time, such as while talking on the phone or sleeping with the arm left bent under the pillow
In some cases, cubital tunnel syndrome can result from an abnormal growth of bone in the elbow or from repeated intense physical activity such as sports that rely on throwing. Baseball pitchers, for example, have an increased risk of ulnar neuropathy due to the twisting motion required to throw certain pitches.
Early symptoms of ulnar neuropathy include:
- Pain and numbness in the elbow
- Tingling in the hand, wrist, and pinky finger
If cubital tunnel syndrome advances, symptoms can also include:
- Weakness in the fingers
- An inability or decreased ability to pinch the thumb and pinky finger together
- A weakened hand grip
- Muscle loss in the hand
- Claw-like deformity in the hand
How does an upper extremity specialist diagnose Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Hand and Wrist specialists may order tests such as a nerve conduction study and a test called electromyography. During an Electromyography procedure, specialists place electrodes into muscles and on the skin to measure the health of muscles and the nerve cells that control them, confirm the diagnosis, identify the area of nerve damage, and determine the severity of the condition. Cases of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome typically do not require X-ray or MRI exams to diagnose.
How do specialists treat Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
In the early stages of cubital tunnel syndrome, your upper extremity specialist will most likely recommend non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicine to reduce swelling around the nerve, such as ibuprofen.
Due to a somewhat higher risk of nerve damage, physicians will not typically resort to corticosteroid injections to deal with cubital tunnel syndrome. Rather than injections, your upper extremity specialist will usually prescribe a brace or splint to wear while sleeping in order to keep the elbow in a proper position. Some physicians will also recommend specific exercises to help the ulnar nerve glide properly through the cubital canal. Performing these exercises regularly can help prevent stiffness in the arm and wrist, avoiding the need for eventual surgery.
Unfortunately, while splints and physical therapy can sometimes have success in relieving pressure from the ulnar nerve, effective long-term relief tends to come from Cubital Tunnel Release Surgery. By cutting through some of the tissue constricting the cubital tunnel, the ulnar nerve can run smoothly through the elbow. Luckily, upper extremity specialists can perform Cubital Tunnel Surgery as a minimally invasive outpatient surgery, with patients able to go home the same day.
Depending on the details of the surgery, your physician may send you home in a splint to wear for the first few weeks of recovery. If the surgery requires a submuscular transposition, that will extend the recovery time to between 3 to 6 weeks in a splint.
Additionally, your physician may prescribe a physical therapy course to help teach you exercises that will recover strength and motion in the joint.
If you would like to speak to one of our Upper Extremity Specialists, give us a call at 817-697-4038, or contact us over the web. Telemedicine appointments are also available.
“Most people don’t think that numbness in their small finger is a big deal, so they put off seeing a doctor. The problem is that the pinched nerve also powers most of the muscles in the hand, and can lead to hand weakness that can become severe and irreversible if left untreated.”