Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Other Hand Numbness/Nerve Compression Problems
Cubital tunnel syndrome and other hand numbness/nerve compression problems can cause a number of symptoms in the hand and forearm, such as weakness, numbness, pain, and tingling. Treatment can usually ease symptoms and ranges from conservative to surgical options.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition that arises from increased pressure or compression on the ulnar nerve, which runs in a tunnel of bone and tissue at the inside of the elbow. When this tunnel becomes narrowed or if the nerve is compressed, it can cause numbness, tingling, and pain in the ring and small fingers, forearm, and/or weakness in the hand.
Other Hand Numbness/Nerve Compression Problems
Other common hand numbness/nerve compression problems include:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Compression of the median nerve in the wrist, causing numbness, tingling, and pain in the hand and fingers. More information on carpal tunnel syndrome here.
- Thoracic Outlet Syndrome: Compression of the nerves or blood vessels in the thoracic outlet (just under your collarbone), leading to numbness in the arm and hand.
- Guyon’s Canal Syndrome: Compression of the ulnar nerve at the wrist, leading to numbness and tingling in the little and ring fingers.
- Pronator Syndrome: Compression of the median nerve in the upper forearm near the elbow, causing pain and numbness in the forearm and hand.
Common symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and other hand numbness and nerve compression problems include:
- Numbness and tingling in the forearm, wrist, hand, or fingers
- Weakness in the hand that may affect grip
- Pain and discomfort, especially at the inside of the elbow
- Symptoms may worsen while gripping or holding items or while performing certain actions
Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome and other nerve compression problems of the hand includes preventive methods, at-home lifestyle modifications, and sometimes surgery. When addressed early, conservative treatments may be all that is necessary to resolve symptoms.
- Lifestyle Modifications: Many patients experience symptom relief with lifestyle modifications. For example, reduce or avoid activities that aggravate the condition, take frequent breaks, apply cold packs, quit smoking, and maintain a healthy weight. Using an elbow pad to protect against irritation from hard surfaces may help to ease symptoms.
- Physical Therapy: Various stretches and exercises can help to relieve symptoms. A proper diagnosis of your nerve compression condition is necessary for your physical therapist to be able to teach you what movements you can do to alleviate symptoms.
- Bracing or Splinting: Bracing or splinting to keep the elbow or wrist straight can help relieve symptoms of some hand, wrist, and forearm nerve compression problems. A brace may be worn at night or during the day and is a good treatment option for patients who cannot take medications.
- Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can decrease inflammation and swelling associated with nerve compression problems such as cubital tunnel syndrome.
- Injections: Corticosteroids may also be administered as injections to relieve pain from cubital tunnel syndrome and other nerve compression disorders.
- Surgery: Surgery may be appropriate if symptoms are severe or if they don’t respond to conservative treatments. The details of your surgery will vary based on your diagnosis. Conservative treatments are usually attempted before surgery is considered.
Frequently Asked Questions
There are several causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, including:
- Repeated bending of the elbow, such as pulling levers or lifting weights
- Direct pressure on the elbow, such as resting the elbow on an armrest
- Bone spurs or arthritis in the elbow
- Swelling or fluid build-up in the elbow
Reducing repetitive elbow movements, avoiding prolonged elbow bending or resting on your elbows, and using proper ergonomics can help in reducing the risk of developing cubital tunnel syndrome. Focus on keeping your arms strong and flexible, and always warm up before exercising or using your arms for repetitive movements (including sports).
Although both conditions involve nerve compression, they affect different areas of the forearm. Carpal tunnel syndrome involves the median nerve at the wrist, while cubital tunnel syndrome involves the ulnar nerve at the elbow.
A thorough physical examination, patient history, and specific tests can help confirm a diagnosis of cubital tunnel syndrome or other nerve compression problems. Electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction studies are sometimes used to measure the electrical activity of muscles and the speed and degree of electrical signals traveling down the nerves. X-rays may also be performed to look for arthritis or bone spurs.