Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve compression syndrome, is a condition caused by compression (pinching) of the ulnar nerve as it passes through the cubital tunnel in the elbow. This will produce numbness in the ring and little finger. In severe cases, weakness of the hand muscles and the wrist flexors on the inner side of the forearm may be present. Cubital tunnel syndrome is not as common as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms

Early signs of cubital tunnel syndrome are numbness on the inside of the hand and in the ring and little fingers. Other sensations in these areas may include:

  • Burning
  • Tingling

Weakness of the hand may occur later, as may pain at the elbow. Patients with this condition may experience tingling or an electric shock sensation down to the small finger or a tapping on the nerve as it passes through the cubital tunnel. In severe cases, muscle wasting may occur.

Diagnosis

Your doctor might test you for medical problems like diabetes or thyroid disease. Sometimes, nerve testing (EMG/NCS) may be needed to see how much the nerve and muscle are being affected. This test also checks for other problems such as a pinched nerve in the neck, which can cause similar symptoms.

Treatment

The first treatment is to avoid actions that cause symptoms. Wrapping a pillow or towel loosely around the elbow or wearing a splint at night to keep the elbow from bending can help. Avoiding leaning on the “funny bone” can also help. A hand therapist can help you find ways to avoid pressure on the nerve.

Sometimes, surgery may be needed to relieve the pressure on the nerve. This can involve releasing the nerve, moving the nerve to the front of the elbow, and/or removing a part of the bone.

Therapy is sometimes needed after surgery, and the time it takes to recover can vary. Numbness and tingling may improve quickly or slowly. It may take many months for recovery after surgery. Cubital tunnel symptoms may not go away completely after surgery, especially if symptoms are severe.