Orthopedic Specialists

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome - Repetitive Flexion of the Elbow

October 1, 2018

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome or Ulnar Nerve Entrapment is similar to Carpal Tunnel  Syndrome in that it often evolves from repetitive flexion, in this case of the elbow.   The ulnar nerve runs in a groove on the inner side of the elbow.  Cubital Tunnel Syndrome develops when the ulnar nerve (funny bone nerve) undergoes compression or stretching.  This causes numbness or tingling in the right and small fingers, pain in the forearm, and/or weakness in the hand.  

There are a few causes of this ulnar nerve problem: 
•    Pressure - The nerve has little padding over it.  Leaning the arm on an arm rest or hard surface puts direct pressure on the nerve which can cause the arm and hand – especially the ring and small fingers to “fall asleep” or have that pins and needles feeling.  
•    Stretching - Keeping the elbow bent for a long time – like during sleep – can stretch the nerve behind the elbow.  
•    Anatomy - Sometimes the ulnar nerve does not stay in its place and snaps back and forth over a bony bump as the elbow is moved.   This repeated snapping can irritate the nerve, the soft tissues over the nerve can become thicker, or there is an “extra” muscle over the nerve that can keep it from working correctly.  

If you are beginning to have some of these symptoms, make adjustments so that you do not have your elbow flexed for an extended period of time.  Take breaks from having your arm in the flexed position while at your desk at work.  Use a pillow to prop your arm/elbow in a different position at night or look for a splint to wear to keep the elbow from bending.  If you have more consistent symptoms or your symptoms do not improve, you should be evaluated by an orthopedic physician who can properly diagnosis the problem and offer other treatment options.  

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