A Closer Look at Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
You, like almost everyone else in the world, have probably bumped your funny bone (officially called the ulnar nerve) at some point in time. Though it often prompts a laugh, hitting that nerve induces more of a laugh of embarrassment and pain than anything else, and there’s certainly nothing “funny” about the tingling sensation and pain that travels from your elbow to the ring and pinky finger in your hand. There’s also nothing funny about cubital tunnel syndrome, the disorder that knows this pain better than anything else.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Overview
Cubital tunnel syndrome is very much like its cousin carpal tunnel syndrome except it originates in the elbow instead of the wrist. Essentially, cubital tunnel syndrome is the result of undue pressure on the ulnar nerve, or funny bone. It results in a variety of symptoms, including pain, swelling, weakness, or clumsiness of the hand and the tingling sensation that travels from the ulnar nerve in your elbow to the small fingers. These symptoms arise at undue and unexpected moments, unlike the pain that’s prompted from simply bumping the nerve.
The ulnar nerve provides a connection between the spinal cord, elbow, forearm, and hand, including the skin on the pinkie side of the hand. Overall, the pain, weakness, and tingling sensation that accompany this disorder result from increased pressure on the nerve. The disorder can develop from repeatedly leaning elbows on a hard surface, bending the elbow for extended periods of time such as while sleeping or on the phone, or overextending the elbow joint. Sometimes, the syndrome develops as a result of intense physical activity when the bone or muscles grow around the nerve, causing extra pressure. It’s very common for baseball and tennis players.
Early on, those with cubital tunnel syndrome will simply experience pain and numbness in the elbow and tingling in the pinkie side of the hand. As cubital tunnel syndrome progresses, more severe symptoms will emerge, including weakness in the pinkie side of the hand, decreased finger strength, an inability to pinch the thumb and little finger, muscle degeneration in the hand, and a claw-like deformity in the hand.
If the pressure on the ulnar nerve is minimal, cubital tunnel syndrome will be fairly easy to manage. Your orthopaedic surgeon may tell you to avoid putting pressure on the elbow during daily activities and prescribe an elbow pad or splint for sleeping and/or daily activities.
In more severe cases, you may need a form of surgery. Your particular procedure will depend on the problems you’re experiencing. Surgeries may include decompressing the ulnar nerve, trimming the part of your elbow the ulnar nerve touches, relocating the nerve to the front of the elbow, or adding protective muscle or fat over the nerve.
The outlook for this surgery is very good, and most patients report full or almost full recovery. If cubital tunnel syndrome is making it difficult to retain normalcy in your daily life, visit a reputable orthopedic surgeon as soon as possible to discuss your options.