You likely have heard of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, especially if you have felt the pain, numbness, weakness and tingling in your thumb, first and middle fingers. You may not be as familiar with its cousin, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, which causes the same host of symptoms, but in your ring and little fingers. So what is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, is a compression of the ulnar nerve at the “funny bone” area of your elbow. To feel where the ulnar nerve passes through the cubital tunnel, try this:
- Turn your hand palm side up, bend your elbow slightly and put your finger on the bumpy elbow bone and your thumb on the boney bump just above it
- In between these two bones, you will feel a space or narrow channel. This is where the ulnar nerve is closest to the surface.
If you have Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, this space may be sensitive and pressing on it may bring on the symptoms.
What Causes it?
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome often arises from bending your elbow for long periods of time (while you’re talking on the phone or sleeping with your arm bent under your pillow). Leaning on an armrest or leaning on your elbows for lengthy periods of time can also cause it. Baseball pitchers tend to suffer from it, especially if they throw a mean curve ball. For some, the anatomy of their elbow (a shallow nerve channel) can cause pressure on the ulnar nerve, causing irritation and symptoms.
- Pain and tenderness with pressure on the inside of the elbow
- Tingling and weakness in the ring and pinky fingers
- Reduced ability to grip, especially when holding handles or tools
- Numbness that awakens you at night, especially when sleeping with a bent elbow
What Can I do?
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome can often be managed by modifying your activities and wearing a splint or brace. Protecting the elbow from pressure and prolonged bending is key to reducing symptoms. The IMAK Elbow Support PM Night Splint and the Bledsoe Padded Elbow Sleeve are two braces that may be helpful.
- Avoid putting direct pressure on your elbows (Don’t lean on them and keep your arms straight while sleeping.)
- Wear a cushioned elbow sleeve during the day
- Wear a splint at night designed to keep your elbow straight
- Ice your elbow for 10 to 15 minutes, especially after long periods of activity that require you to bend your elbow
If you have symptoms of cubital tunnel, discuss them with your health care provider. Left untreated, the nerve can atrophy or shrink, causing permanent loss of strength and feeling in your fingers and continuing pain at your elbow. If necessary, a surgeon can move the ulnar nerve to a more padded area of the arm or they can open up or release the cubital tunnel to decrease pressure on the nerve.Like what you’ve read? Click here to subscribe to the blog!