Cubital tunnel syndrome, or ulnar nerve entrapment, is a condition that causes pain in the forearm, numbness or tingling in the ring and small fingers and hand weakness. The issue arises when the nerve that runs through the elbow — the ulnar nerve — becomes irritated, stretched or compressed.
Most patients can successfully manage their symptoms through conservative measures. If lifestyle changes and nonsurgical treatments fail to provide relief, however, cubital tunnel surgery may be recommended.
For many patients, making changes in body postures at home and work can go a long way toward relieving the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. Hand doctors advise patients to avoid:
Activities requiring the elbow to remain bent for a long period of time
Leaning on the affected arm or putting pressure on the elbow
Positioning the chair too low or resting the elbow on the armrest when sitting at the computer
Wrapping the elbow with a towel to avoid sleeping with the arm bent
A range of nonsurgical treatments can work to relieve ulnar nerve entrapment symptoms. Hand doctors often recommend the following non-invasive measures:
Bracing or splinting — Wearing padded support at night may be necessary to keep the elbow straight.
Taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — Ibuprofen, naproxen and other anti-inflammatory medications can relieve pain and reduce swelling around the ulnar nerve.
Exercising — Nerve-gliding exercises that encourage the nerve to move smoothly at the elbow may help prevent arm and wrist stiffness.
Corticosteroid injections are commonly used as a nonsurgical treatment for many conditions involving inflammation. But hand doctors don’t recommend injections for ulnar nerve entrapment, as the risk for nerve damage is high.
Cubital Tunnel Surgery
When conservative measures don’t help, surgery can be an effective treatment approach. Surgery may also be advised for patients with severe compression of the ulnar nerve or significant muscle weakness and damage. Helpful surgical procedures include:
- Cubital tunnel release — This elbow surgery decreases pressure on the ulnar nerve by cutting a ligament to create more space.
- Ulnar nerve anterior transposition — With this procedure, the nerve is repositioned to prevent it from stretching when the elbow is bent.
- Medial epicondylectomy — This surgery removes some of the medial epicondyle, or the large rounded end of the humerus bone, to prevent the nerve from getting caught and stretched when the arm is bent.
Do you need treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome? Dr. J. Douglas Burrows, a leading board-certified, fellowship-trained hand specialist based at the Center of Orthopedic & Rehabilitation Excellence in northern Utah, can determine the right approach to alleviate your pain and restore your mobility.
With over 20 years of experience serving the greater Salt Lake City area, Dr. Burrows understands how to properly treat upper extremity disorders, diseases and injuries. For an effective treatment plan to relieve your cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms, contact our West Valley City office today.