Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

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If you’ve ever experienced a sudden jolt of pain or numbness when you accidentally bumped your elbow, you’ve likely encountered your “funny bone.” However, that humorous term hides a more serious condition known as cubital tunnel syndrome.

In this article, we’ll delve into the anatomy of the elbow, explore what cubital tunnel syndrome is, discuss its causes and symptoms, and provide insights into diagnosis and treatment options. Contact our doctors at JIS Orthopedics for elbow treatments in New Albany and St. Clairsville, Ohio.

Understanding the Anatomy of the Elbow

The elbow joint connects the upper arm bone (humerus) to the two forearm bones (radius and ulna). Running through this region is the ulnar nerve, which controls the muscles in your hand and provides sensation to your little finger and part of your ring finger.

What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome (also known as ulnar nerve entrapment) occurs when the ulnar nerve becomes compressed or irritated as it passes through a narrow tunnel on the inner side of the elbow called the cubital tunnel.

Ulnar nerve compression can lead to various uncomfortable symptoms, such as numbness, tingling, or weakness in the hand and fingers. This condition is not the same as carpal tunnel syndrome, which is the entrapment of the median nerve in the wrist.

What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Several factors can contribute to the development of cubital tunnel syndrome. They include the following:

  1. Elbow Position: The ulnar nerve must stretch around the bony bump of the medial epicondyle every time it bends. Keeping your elbow bent for extended periods, like when talking on the phone or sleeping with your elbow flexed, can increase the risk of nerve compression.
  2. Pressure on the Elbow: Resting your elbow on a hard surface or using it as a lean-to can also irritate the ulnar nerve.
  3. Anatomy: The ulnar nerve can slide out from behind the medial epicondyle when the elbow is bent in some people. This can irritate the ulnar nerve.
  4. Repetitive Activities: Activities that involve repetitive bending and straightening of the elbow, such as certain sports or jobs, can increase the risk.

How Do I Know If I Have Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Recognizing the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome is crucial for early diagnosis and treatment. Common symptoms include:

  • Numbness and tingling in the little finger and ring finger
  • Muscle weakness in your hand
  • Pain along the inner side of the elbow
  • Difficulty gripping objects or performing fine motor tasks

If you experience these symptoms, it’s essential to seek medical attention promptly. If left untreated, cubital tunnel syndrome can lead to muscle wasting and more severe symptoms.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Risk Factors

You could be at a higher risk of developing cubital tunnel syndrome if the following is true:

  • Previous fracture or dislocation of the elbow
  • Bone spurs in the elbow
  • Swelling in your elbow joint
  • Cysts near your elbow joint
  • Your work requires repetitive elbow flexion

How is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

Diagnosing cubital tunnel syndrome typically involves a physical examination by a medical professional.

They may also recommend nerve conduction studies to assess nerve function. A nerve conduction test will measure how fast signals travel down the nerve. In some cases, an MRI or ultrasound may be needed to identify the extent of nerve compression.

How is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Treated?

Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome aims to relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve and manage symptoms. Depending on the severity of the condition, treatment options may include:

  • Elbow Pad: If your work requires leaning a lot on your elbows, an elbow pad can provide some relief.
  • Bracing or Splinting. A padded brace or splint can be used at night to keep your elbow in a straight position.
  • Physical Therapy: Nerve gliding exercises and muscle strengthening physical therapy can alleviate symptoms.
  • Medications: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or steroid injections may be prescribed to reduce swelling and pain.

Surgical Intervention

In severe cases where muscle wasting has occurred or if there is severe ulnar nerve compression, your doctor may recommend surgical options. The following are some surgical procedures that may be used:

  • Ulnar nerve anterior transposition: During this procedure, your surgeon will move the ulnar nerve from behind the medial epicondyle and put it in front. Ulnar nerve transposition stops the nerve from catching on the bony ridge and stretching it.
  • Cubital tunnel release: The surgeon will cut the top of the tunnel to increase its size and reduce pressure.
  • Medial epicondylectomy: Another procedure is to remove part of the medial epicondyle. This can prevent the nerve on the bony ridge and stretching when your elbow is bent.

How to Prevent Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Keep your arms flexible and strong to prevent cubital tunnel syndrome. Try not to rest on your elbows, especially on a hard surface. You should also warm up properly before exercising or using your arms for sports or other repetitive movements.

When to See Your Doctor

If you suspect you have cubital tunnel syndrome or are experiencing any of the common symptoms, it’s crucial to consult with a healthcare professional. Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can prevent the condition from progressing and causing further complications.

Book a Consultation Today

At JIS Orthopedics, we specialize in diagnosing and treating various orthopedic conditions, including cubital tunnel syndrome. If you’re in New Albany or St. Clairsville, OH and need expert orthopedic care, contact us today! Our team of experienced professionals is here to help you on your journey to recovery.

Cubital tunnel syndrome can be a painful and debilitating condition, but with the proper diagnosis and treatment, you can regain control of your elbow and hand function. Don’t hesitate to seek medical advice if you suspect you have this condition, and remember that timely intervention can make a significant difference in your quality of life.

Medically reviewed by AJ Julka, MD

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