Cubital Tunnel Syndrome (Ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow)

Related terms

Ulnar nerve entrapment (at the elbow)

Ulnar neuropathy

Short summary

The ulnar nerve travels behind the inner aspect of your elbow through a tunnel termed the cubital tunnel.  The ulnar nerve is responsible for the pins and needles that you experience when you “hit your funny bone”.  The ulnar nerve can get compressed within the cubital tunnel to cause numbness and tingling in the little and ring fingers.  This is called cubital tunnel syndrome.

What are the causes?

For most patients the exact cause is unknown.  Prolonged pressure to the nerve at the elbow can cause symptoms and so may relate to a patient’s occupation.  Holding your arm very bent for a long period of time can also cause symptoms, this may explain patients who have symptoms at night as they sleep with their arms bent.  A direct injury to the ulnar nerve may produce persistent symptoms.

What are the symptoms?

Patients feel numbness and tingling in their little and ring finger.  This can be worse at night and patients may find they have to hang their arm down or shake their hand to relieve the tingling.  Driving or holding a telephone may reproduce symptoms as the arm is bent with pressure placed on the nerve.

Weakness in the hand or a loss of coordination of the fingers can occur.  Muscle wasting to the small muscles of the hand is a sign of severe compression.

How is it diagnosed?

Your surgeon can usually make the diagnosis by asking about the symptoms you have and examining your elbow.  Nerve conduction studies can be used to confirm the diagnosis.

How is it treated?

If symptoms are mild then avoidance of aggravating factors may be all that is required.  If symptoms persist then surgery in the form of a cubital tunnel release can be performed.