The Cubital Tunnel
The cubital tunnel is made up of bones, muscles, and ligaments inside your elbow in the area commonly referred to as the “funny bone”. There is a nerve running through this tunnel called the ulnar nerve, which starts at the side of your neck and ends in your fingers. This nerve supplies information to your muscles to help you move your hands and feel sensation in your fingers.
What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
If the ulnar nerve becomes pinched or restricted within the cubital tunnel it causes what is known as cubital tunnel syndrome. This can happen as the result of conditions such as arthritis, joint dislocation, fractures, swelling in the lining of the tendons, and even from fluid retention during pregnancy.
Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome can include:
- Tingling and numbness in the hand or fingers especially when the elbow is bent
- Tingling and numbness during the night
- Aching inside the elbow
- Pain in the arm that is similar to the feeling when you hit your elbow on the “funny bone”
- A weakened grip or poor finger coordination (clumsiness)
In severe cases, sensation may be permanently lost and some of the muscles in the hand may reduce in size due to muscle wastage.
How Can I Prevent Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
There are a few ways to reduce your chances of suffering from cubital tunnel syndrome:
- Don’t rest on your elbows, especially on a hard surface or for prolonged periods
- Limit activities that can trigger the condition or make it worse such as tennis and golf
- Keep your arms straight or wear a splint to prevent the elbow from bending while you are at rest or asleep.
- Try to avoid falls or direct impact to the elbow
Diagnosis and Treatment
Your doctor may be able to diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome by performing a physical examination alone, but further testing may be required. An electromyography (EMG) test may be carried out to examine the nerve’s signaling and measure the health of muscles and nerve cells in the area.
In some cases, imaging tests such as X-rays, CT scans or MRI scans may also be used to identify issues like bone spurs or arthritis that may be contributing to the problem.
Most often, nonsurgical methods can be used to successfully treat cubital tunnel syndrome. These conservative treatments may include rest and immobility as well as pain management efforts such as the use of anti-inflammatory medications. A splint may be used to help keep the arm straight, especially while sleeping. Putting pressure on the elbow should be avoided. In some cases, occupational or physical therapy may be advisable to aid recovery.
If your doctor recommends surgery, it can relieve compression of the nerve and help prevent further damage.
If you are experiencing elbow pain or think you may have cubital tunnel syndrome, the physicians at the Center for Orthopaedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in San Antonio, Texas, can diagnose and treat your condition, relieve your pain, and restore your range of motion. To schedule an appointment, call us at (210) 692-7400 or use our online appointment request form.