Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Photo of man clutching his elbow

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

The ulnar nerve as it travels through the lower part of the arm, the elbow and into the top part of the forearm runs through several areas in which it can be compressed or stretched. This compression may occur without an apparent cause, but can also be due to prominent areas of bone at the elbow from arthritis, or from injury or a ganglion (bubble of fluid) from the joint. If the nerve is compressed it can stop working properly which causes symptoms of pins and needles and numbness in the little finger, and the ring finger side of the hand, with pain often on the inner aspect of the elbow, which can travel towards your hand.

Some people will feel that their hand is less strong or less dexterous. The symptoms are a bit like when you hit your “funny bone” (the “funny bone” is, in fact, your ulnar nerve). The medical term for problems with the ulnar nerve at your elbow is ulnar neuropathy or cubital tunnel syndrome. The symptoms often occur at night, and when bending the elbow for prolonged periods.

Diagram explaining cubital tunnel syndrome

How is cubital tunnel syndrome treated?

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome –
Post-Operative Care

The above operations are usually carried out under general anaesthetic. The decompression is often a day case, and occasionally transposition procedures may require a night stay in hospital.

A large bandage will be in place for the first two days post-surgery, and then a sticky plaster until 10 days after the operation. Generally, no suture removal is required. The motion of your elbow can be commenced immediately after your operation, and movement does return faster after decompression, especially if performed endoscopically.

There will be some bruising in the forearm after the operation, and the numbness will probably not disappear immediately. You can expect to return to work in 2-7 days for light activities, and 1-6 weeks for full activities after an endoscopic decompression.

For transposition, light duties are often possible by two weeks and heavier duties between 6-12 weeks. One important risk, especially for the open decompression and transposition, is long-term numbness in an area of skin at the back of the forearm due to stretching, or less commonly, injury to the skin nerves to the area.

There is also a risk of damage to the ulnar nerve at surgery.

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