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Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

Providing feeling to the little finger and part of the ring finger, your ulnar nerve also controls muscles in the hand that assist with fine movements and some in the forearm that help you grip. Entrapment occurs when the ulnar nerve in the arm becomes compressed or irritated. Ulnar nerve entrapment is also known as cubital tunnel syndrome.

What causes it?

The exact cause of many cases of ulnar nerve entrapment is unknown. Pressure on the nerve can come from a number of sources:

  • Fluid buildup in the elbow
  • A direct blow to the “funny bone”
  • Extended periods of leaning on the elbow
  • Shifting or stretching of the nerve when the elbow is bent

How do you know you have it?

The most common symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment are:

  • Pain on the inside of the elbow
  • Wrist and hand weakness
  • Tingling or numbness in the forearm or fingers
  • Popping or snapping sensation on the inside part of the elbow
  • Muscle atrophy in the hand

How we fix it

The OSI upper extremity team is here to listen, discuss your concerns, and examine you for signs and symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment. The following can help determine the best course of action:

  • Physical exam: Following a discussion of your general health and medical history, your doctor will perform a careful examination of your arm to determine the extent of compression. Additionally, your doctor may check the hand, fingers, neck, shoulder, elbow, and wrist to see if symptoms result from different positioning of these areas.
  • X-rays: X-rays may be taken to see if bone spurs or arthritis might be the source of nerve compression.
  • Nerve conduction studies: These tests assess nerve function and help identify the location of nerve compression.

Nonsurgical Treatment

Unless compression of the nerve has resulted in extensive muscle wasting, nonsurgical treatments for ulnar nerve entrapment are generally recommended first and include:

  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications
  • Bracing or splinting
  • Nerve gliding exercises

Surgical Treatment

To take the pressure off of the nerve, surgical treatment may be considered when:

  • Nonsurgical methods do not yield the desired results
  • Muscle weakness or damage is present
  • Compression of the ulnar nerve is severe

Procedures include:

  • Cubital tunnel release
  • Ulnar nerve transposition
  • Medial epicondylectomy