Nerve compression syndromes including cubital tunnel syndrome can trigger a variety of symptoms including numbness, pain and weakness. The nerves can become compressed for various reasons.
When it comes to cubital tunnel syndrome, one of the nerves of the upper extremity specifically the ulnar nerve is pinched or compressed as it travels behind the elbow. This is the same nerve that triggers the tingling sensation of hitting the “funny bone”. Take note that this is essentially a sensation triggered by irritating the ulnar nerve at the back of the elbow. Once struck, this triggers a shooting feeling and stinging in the ring and small fingers. The ulnar nerve sends signals to the brain regarding these sensations in the finger. This is why the fingers tingle once the nerve in the elbow is hit.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Among individuals who have cubital tunnel syndrome, it is important to note that the ulnar nerve is compressed in one of the locations in the rear part of the elbow. The usual symptoms include the following:
- Tingling, pain and numbness in the ring and small fingers which is often called as the “pins and needles” sensation.
- Weakening of the hand muscles
- Symptoms manifest when the elbow is bent for an extended period
The weakened muscles or intrinsic hand muscles help with movements of the fingers. An individual with severe symptoms might experience a tendency to drop objects or has difficulty with fine movements of the fingers.
Diagnosing cubital tunnel syndrome
A diagnosis is made based on the history and physical assessment. An X-ray or other tests might be requested if there is an issue of something abnormal pressing on the nerve. In addition, nerve tests called EMGs can be requested to check on the location and extent of the nerve compression.
The treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome typically starts with simple measures. Most cases can resolve within a few simple treatments such as the following:
- Splinting of the elbow especially during night time
- Anti-inflammatory medications
- Instruct the individual to avoid leaning on the elbow
- Padding the elbow during work and leisure activities
In case these simple measures are not effective, surgical intervention might be needed to remove the pressure off the ulnar nerve. Since the nerve can be compressed at one of the locations behind the elbow, it is vital to determine the exact spot where the nerve is pinched or to release the pressure from all the potential areas where compression occurs. In some individuals, the treatment involves moving the nerve to the anterior aspect of the elbow so that it is under less pressure once it is bent.
Depending on the severity of damage to the nerve, the symptoms can resolve rapidly or might not resolve at all. In most of the severe cases of the condition, some symptoms can persist despite surgery.