Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

What is cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition where there is increased pressure on the ulnar nerve in your elbow. The ulnar nerve controls muscles and feeling in the hand. Cubital tunnel syndrome may be caused by direct pressure, stretching, or decreased blood flow to the ulnar nerve.

What increases my risk for cubital tunnel syndrome?

  • Previous injury to your elbow or ulnar nerve

  • Leaning on or bending your elbow for long periods of time, such as when you sleep

  • Repetitive motion of your elbow, such as painting, playing an instrument, or using power tools

  • Health conditions such as hypothyroidism, diabetes, or arthritis

  • Tumor or cyst

  • Obesity

  • Pregnancy

What are the signs and symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?

  • Numbness and tingling in your arm or hand, usually in the ring and little fingers

  • Pain in your elbow that extends into your forearm and hand

  • Weakness in your hand and fingers

  • Not being able to straighten your fingers, usually the ring and little fingers

How is cubital tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask about your signs and symptoms and examine your hand and arm. Your caregiver may check the movement of your shoulder, elbow, wrist, and fingers. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Nerve compression tests: Your caregiver will tap or press on your elbow. He may also ask you to keep your elbow bent for a short time. These tests are used to check for numbness, tingling, and pain.

  • X-ray: This is used to look at the bones in your elbow to find the cause of your symptoms.

  • Electrodiagnostic studies: Electrodiagnostic studies may include nerve conduction studies and electromyography. These studies test how well your nerves are working. Your caregiver uses these tests to learn more about your condition and to decide how to treat your symptoms.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your elbow. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell caregivers if you are allergic to iodine or shellfish. You may also be allergic to the dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell caregivers if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures of your elbow and forearm tissues on a monitor. An ultrasound may show the cause of the pressure against your ulnar nerve.

How is cubital tunnel syndrome treated?

Cubital tunnel syndrome may go away by itself. In other cases, you may need the following treatment to decrease your symptoms:

  • Medicines:

    • NSAIDs: These medicines decrease swelling and pain. NSAIDs are available without a doctor's order. Ask your caregiver which medicine is right for you and how much to take. Take as directed. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems if not taken correctly.

    • Steroid: This injection helps decrease pain and swelling.

  • Surgery: You may need surgery to take pressure off your ulnar nerve. Your caregiver may move your nerve to a different area to stop it from being stretched or pinched. Your caregiver may remove part of your bone if it is pressing on your nerve.

What are the risks of cubital tunnel syndrome?

  • Surgery may cause an infection, pain, swelling, or bruising. Surgery may damage the nerves, muscles, ligaments, or blood vessels in your arm. This can cause weakness or numbness in your arm and hand. Even after treatment, you may still have symptoms

  • Without treatment, your symptoms may not go away or get worse. Your hand and fingers may become very weak. You may have problems using your arm or hand. You may not be able to grab, squeeze, or lift items. It may be hard for you to do your daily activities.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Avoid putting pressure on your elbow: Certain positions put pressure on the ulnar nerve in your elbow. Leaning or sleeping on your bent elbow can make your symptoms worse.

  • Apply ice: Ice helps decrease swelling and pain. Ice may also help prevent tissue damage. Use an ice pack or put crushed ice in a plastic bag. Cover the ice pack with a towel and place it on the area for 15 to 20 minutes every hour.

  • Rest your arm: You may need to rest your injured arm and avoid activities that cause your symptoms to allow your nerve to heal.

  • Get physical therapy: A physical therapist can show you exercises to help improve movement and strength. Physical therapy can also help decrease pain and loss of function.

  • Use elbow splint or brace: You may need a brace or splint on your elbow to decrease your arm movement. This will help to keep pressure off your ulnar nerve. You may also need elbow pads to protect your elbow.

When should I contact my caregiver?

Contact your caregiver if:

  • Your symptoms get worse.

  • Your hand and fingers are so weak that you cannot grab, squeeze, or lift items.

  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You suddenly lose feeling in your hand or fingers.

  • You cannot move your ring or little finger.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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