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Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

What is cubital tunnel syndrome?

Anatomy of the elbow
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Cubital tunnel syndrome feels similar to the pain that occurs from hitting the "funny" bone in your elbow. The "funny" bone in the elbow is actually the ulnar nerve, a nerve that crosses the elbow (the ulnar nerve begins in the side of the neck and ends in the fingers).

What causes cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve, which passes through the cubital tunnel (a tunnel of muscle, ligament, and bone) on the inside of the elbow, becomes compressed due to chronic irritation, injury, or pressure. The condition may occur when a person frequently bends the elbows (such as when pulling, reaching, or lifting), constantly leans on the elbow, or sustains a direct injury to the area.

What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?

The following are the most common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Numbness in the hand and/or ring and little finger

  • Hand pain

  • Hand and thumb clumsiness due to muscle weakness

The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome may resemble other medical conditions or problems, including medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow). Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis.

How is cubital tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for cubital tunnel syndrome may include the following:

  • Nerve conduction test. A test to determine how fast signals travel down a nerve to detect a compression or constriction.

  • Electromyogram (EMG). A test to evaluate nerve and muscle function; a test of the forearm muscles controlled by the ulnar nerve. If the muscles do not function properly, this may indicate that the ulnar nerve is not functioning properly.

Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome

Specific treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome will be determined by your doctor based on:

  • Your age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the condition

  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the condition

  • Your opinion or preference

The most effective treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome is the cessation of activity that is causing the problem. Treatment may include:

  • Reducing or ceasing any activity, such as anything that involves bending the elbow.  

  • A splint or foam elbow pad worn at night (to limit movement and reduce irritation)

  • Elbow pad (to protect against chronic irritation from hard surfaces)

  • Anti-inflammatory medications

  • Surgery

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