Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition where too much pressure of the ulnar nerve at the elbow causes pain, numbness, and tingling of the hand and fingers. The ulnar nerve supplies feeling to half of the ring finger, and the small finger. The ulnar nerve also controls most of the small muscles in the hand and some of the forearm muscles.
If you think you have cubital tunnel syndrome, it is important to get evaluated and treated by an orthopedic specialist because cubital tunnel related nerve damage can become permanent over time.
The cubital tunnel is the space the ulnar nerve travels through at the elbow just behind the hard bone (medial epicondyle) on the inside of the elbow. This area is also known as the “funny bone”. The ulnar nerve is susceptible to compression at the cubital tunnel because it is a very small space with little soft tissue protecting the nerve. The ulnar nerve supplies feeling to half of the ring finger, and the small finger. The ulnar nerve also controls most of the small muscles in the hand and some of the forearm muscles.
Too much pressure of the cubital tunnel can be caused by injury, inflammation, bending the elbow or repetitive elbow movements for too long of a time
Diagnosing cubital tunnel syndrome begins with a thorough discussion and physical exam by your orthopedic physician. X-rays are usually taken to rule out arthritis and if there has been an injury such as a fracture.
Your doctor should rule out other conditions that can cause numbness and tingling in the hands such as diabetes, thyroid problems, some vitamin deficiencies, and pinched nerves in the neck.
The following tests may be requested in order to confirm cubital tunnel syndrome.
Cubital tunnel release is recommended if there is no improvement with conservative management, or nerve compression is causing muscle weakness or damage. The goal is to relieve the pressure on the ulnar nerve by cutting the ligament over the nerve and anything else that may be compressing the ulnar nerve. In some instances, it may be necessary to move the nerve from behind the elbow to the front of the elbow (ulnar nerve transposition), or remove part of the bone next to the nerve (medial epicondylectomy).
Cubital Tunnel surgery is a successful procedure. After cubital tunnel release, most patients can begin range-of-motion exercises immediately and gradually progress to active stretching and strengthening exercises. Typically, relief from numbness is experienced quickly after surgery, but depending on the degree of irritation of the nerve prior to surgery, it may take months for the nerve to recover completely.
**Disclaimer: Treatment recommendations may vary depending on your true diagnosis. Always follow the recommendations of your orthopedic provider.