The ulnar nerve is the nerve that connects the neck to the fingers. The nerve is close to the ulna bone, which starts from the little finger to the forearm. The nerve is responsible for the forearm, ring, and little finger sensation. The length of the nerve creates several areas it can be affected. One common area is the elbow in the cubital tunnel. The cubital funnel is an aisle for the ulnar nerve, muscle, ligament, and bone. Cubital tunnel syndrome is an injury that obstructs the passage of the ulnar nerve, causing irritation, swelling, or inflammation. The pain is similar to hurting your funny bone in the elbow. The ulnar nerve is the funny bone. The injury can be severe, needing the attention of a health practitioner. However, there are ways to resolve the injury. Read on to find out.
What causes cubital tunnel syndrome?
The cause of cubital tunnel syndrome is not certain, making it hard to narrow down the exact cause. However, some factors include:
- Anatomy: the ulnar nerve soft tissue may become thicker or form extra muscle, which affects the function of the nerve causing cubital tunnel syndrome.
- Pressure: leaning on the elbow can compress the ulnar nerve causing numbness to your ring finger, arm, pinky finger, and hand.
- Snapping: the ulnar nerve may shift from the position over the medial epicondyle, causing nerve irritation.
- Stretching: the nerve might get over stretched from bending the elbow for a long time, especially when sleeping.
What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?
The symptoms of the injury can last for more than six weeks. The muscle can start to waste if the issue is not attended to. However, treating the compressed nerve can mitigate, improve or make symptoms disappear. Here are some things to observe for cubital tunnel syndrome.
- Numbness or tingling of fingers
- Occasional numbness in the fingers and hand
- Pain inside the elbow
- Persistent tingling of the hand and fingers
The primary symptoms are pain, tingling, and numbness of the hand. The sensation occurs when you bend your elbow while driving, holding the phone, or sleeping.
How is cubital tunnel syndrome diagnosed?
The doctor performs a medical history and physical exam in addition to a series of tests like;
- Nerve conduction test to figure out the nerve’s signal response when compressed or constricted.
- An electromyogram (EMG) is a test of nerve and muscle function. It is also a way to test the forearm muscles to check for faulty functions on the ulnar nerve.
- An X-ray looks at the elbow bones to check for diseases like arthritis or bone spur in the elbow.
How is cubital tunnel syndrome treated?
The best way to treat cubital tunnel syndrome is to stop the pain-causing activity. Treatment may include:
- Resting and stopping the activity that triggers the injury, such as stretching or bending the elbow
- Wearing a tight splint or foam elbow brace to restrict movement and mitigate irritation
- Taking anti-inflammatory drugs like naproxen
- Performing nerve gliding exercises
In cases where the treatment may not show rewarding results, the health provider may suggest steroid injections to mitigate pain and swelling or surgery.
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