Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

The cubital tunnel is inside the elbow, behind the "funny bone" (medial epicondyle). The tunnel is formed by the ligaments attached to the bone. The ulnar nerve passes through the cubital tunnel from the arm to the upper arm and hand. Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition in which pressure on the ulnar nerve causes numbness and tingling in the ring and small fingers of the hand.

Normally, bending the elbow causes the nerve to stretch several millimeters. Repeated bending and straightening of the elbow can cause the nerve to become irritated and inflamed. In other patients, the nerve shifts and actually snaps over the prominence of the medial epicondyle, stretching and irritating the nerve. Leaning on the elbow or resting the elbow on an elbow rest during a long-distance drive or running machinery may cause repetitive pressure and irritation on the nerve. A direct hit on the tunnel may also damage the ulnar nerve.

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Symptoms

Early signs of cubital tunnel syndrome are numbness on the inside of the hand and in the ring and little fingers. Weakness of the hand may occur later, as may pain at the elbow. In people with this condition, tapping on the nerve as it passes through the cubital tunnel causes tingling or electric shock sensation down to the small finger.

Treatment

The early symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome usually subside if the activity that is causing the symptoms is discontinued. The amount of time you perform tasks that require repeated bending and straightening of the elbow should be reduced. Take frequent breaks from work - at least five minutes every half an hour. If the symptoms are worse at night because you sleep with your elbow bent, a thin pillow may be wrapped around the elbow to splint the elbow in a straight position.

If the symptoms fail to respond to activity modifications and an elbow splint, surgery may be required to stop progression of damage to the ulnar nerve. The operation moves the ulnar nerve from behind the medial epicondyle to the front of the medial epicondyle, giving the nerve some slack and removing the stretching of the nerve.

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