Dr McGuire’s

Orthopaedic Services

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a compressive neuropathy of the ulnar nerve as it passes behind the elbow. The ulnar nerve runs through a small tunnel at the back of the elbow. This tunnel can become narrowed and result in compression of the ulnar nerve. The ulnar nerve supplies feeling to the ring and little fingers and also supplies the small muscles of the hand. Cubital tunnel syndrome may occur as a result of repetitive bending of the elbow, especially when pulling, reaching or lifting something. The condition may also occur when leaning on the elbow constantly or when there is an injury in that area. Medical conditions such as arthritis, bone spurs and dislocations of the elbow or previous fractures can cause cubital tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms include numbness and pins and needles of the hand, particularly the ring and little fingers. In advanced cases, the hand becomes weak, and the muscles can waste away. Symptoms are exacerbated by bending of the elbow for prolonged periods of time, and with leaning on the elbow. Cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms can resemble other conditions or problems such as medial epicondylitis also known as golfer's elbow. It is important that you seek medical attention for accurate diagnosis and treatment.

In mild cases, activity modification can help. This involves avoiding bending the elbow for prolonged periods and avoiding leaning on the elbow. Other conservative treatments may include the use of a splint or a foam elbow brace, and an elbow pad to limit movement and reduce nerve irritation. If this fails, then surgery may be required, which involves releasing the nerve in the tight cubital tunnel at the back of the elbow. Sometimes the nerve may need to be moved out of the tunnel to the front side of the elbow to allow the nerve to "cut the corner" and reduce tension on it when bending the elbow. This is called an ulnar nerve transposition.

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