Nerve Entrapment at the Elbow

The ulnar nerve starts at the side of your neck and ends at your fingers. It helps you move your wrist, arm and hand and provides sensation to your ring and little fingers. The ulnar nerve passes through a tunnel of ligament, muscle and bone located on the inside of your elbow called the cubital tunnel.

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when your ulnar nerve becomes injured, swollen, inflamed or compressed inside the cubital tunnel. The feeling is often described as similar to hitting the “funny bone” in your elbow.

Anatomical issues, excessive pressure or over-stretching your elbow may prompt cubital tunnel syndrome, but in many instances, the cause unknown.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Although each person experiences cubital tunnel syndrome differently, common symptoms include:

  • Tingling and numbness in your ring and little finger or hand, especially when bending your elbow
  • Numbness and tingling that worsens at night
  • Pain in your hand or the inside of your elbow
  • Weakened grip and loss of hand or finger coordination
  • Clawlike deformity of your wrist and hand
  • Muscle wasting in your hand, in severe cases

Diagnosis of cubital tunnel syndrome includes a thorough physical examination and review of your medical history. Other tests may include:

  • X-rays to view the bones in your elbow
  • MRI scan to view your ulnar nerve and nearby structures
  • Nerve conduction tests to assess how well your ulnar nerve is working
  • Electromyography (EMG) to determine the health of your ulnar nerve and the muscles it controls
  • Nerve biopsy in rare cases

Full recovery from cubital tunnel syndrome is common if the cause of the nerve dysfunction is successfully identified and treated, especially if done in the early stages of the condition. In more severe cases, you may experience partial or complete loss of sensation or movement.

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