Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, also termed as ulnar nerve entrapment is a condition caused by the compression or stretching of the ulnar nerve, also known as the “funny bone nerve.” It is one of the main nerves in the arm that runs along the ulnar bone from the neck till the little finger.
This ulnar nerve can get subjected to pressure and get compressed at several places like below the collar bone, at the wrist or at the elbows. The compression at the elbow region is called Cubital Tunnel Syndrome. The compression of the nerve may cause a sudden jerk or an electric-shock like sensation.
The most probable causes of cubital tunnel syndrome are:
A direct pressure on the nerve can cause compression and lead numbness in the arm, hand or the little finger which is commonly called “hitting the funny bone”.
If you are keeping your elbow bent for a long time, it can cause strain on the nerve and make your arm numb. Also Read: Writer's Cramp: A Rare And Sudden Cramp On Your Muscles
If there is an extra muscle on the nerve or the soft tissues over the nerve become thicker, it can prevent the nerve from working properly causing pain and irritation. Sometimes fluid build up in the elbow may also lead to swelling and pressurize the nerve.
Other causes include bone spurs, arthritis, previously suffered fractures, cysts near the elbow joint or elbow dislocations causing severe pain or spasm. Also Read: Learn How To Manage Sudden, Painful Muscle Spasms
The most common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome are:
- Pain in the arms or side of the elbow as in carpal tunnel syndrome
- Numbness or tingling feeling in the arm, wrist or little finger
- Loss of sensation
- Weakness in the ring and little finger
- Muscle-wasting in the arms
- Weakening of grip
Diagnosis and Treatment
The primary diagnosis is usually carried out by a neuro specialist or an orthopedic doctor after a thorough physical examination and knowing about the patient’s past medical history.
The physical examinations include touching the funny bone to see any painful sensations, analysing whether the ulnar nerve is in the correct position when the elbow is bent, or asking the patient to slowly move his head, neck muscles, shoulder, and arm to check for any shock-like sensations.
The physical examination may follow imaging tests like X-ray and certain nerve tests.
A mild condition of carpal tunnel syndrome is treatable without surgical options.
The doctor may prescribe for some anti-inflammatory medicines or steroid injections to provide relief from the pain and swelling.
Braces or Splints:
To reduce movement and provide rest, the doctor may prescribe for some elbow pads, braces or splints to keep the elbow straight and minimise the pain.
Nerve Gliding Exercises:
The doctor may also ask the patient to carry out some exercises to bring the ulnar nerve back to the position and in turn, reduce the pain and swelling.
A severe condition may require surgical procedures to reduce the compression over the ulnar nerve which includes:
- Decompression of the ulnar nerve
- Move the nerve compressed under a layer of fat tissue
- Shift the bent nerve to the front of the elbow
- Cubital tunnel release, in which a minute cut is done on the roof of the tunnel and it is divided o increase the size of the tunnel and reduce the pressure.