What’s Ulnar Nerve Entrapment And How Do You Fix It?

The ulnar nerve extends from the shoulder to the pinky finger with only the skin as protection. Since the nerve is relatively exposed to compression, the ulnar nerve is vulnerable to entrapment, or extra pressure, at the elbow or the wrist. Cubital tunnel syndrome refers to nerve entrapment at the elbow, the most common type of ulnar nerve entrapment.

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Signs and symptoms

Ulnar nerve entrapment causes a variety of symptoms depending on where the entrapment originates. When people suffer from cubital tunnel syndrome, people may notice pain on the inside of the elbow. The injury can affect hands by reducing feeling in the ring and pinky fingers. Or the conditions can cause limited flexibility and a pins-and-needles sensation.

Injury causes

The ulnar nerve travels under a bone at the elbow known as the medial epicondyle, or the funny bone. The exact cause of entrapment is unknown at the moment, but researchers suggest repetitive arm and elbow movements can increase the risk for developing nerve entrapment. Cysts at the elbow, arthritis, or fluid buildup after an injury can lead to nerve entrapment. Whenever a person bends an elbow, the ulnar nerve stretches. The nerve can become irritated from excessive sliding behind the funny bone bump. Activities that require keeping the elbow bent for long periods can also increase elbow pain. Activities can include sleeping, holding the phone up to the ear, or leaning on a desk.

Preventing ulnar nerve entrapment

Mild ulnar nerve symptoms can be relieved with easy nerve gliding exercises to stretch irritated nerves. Nerve gliding exercises can reduce pain and improve the elbow’s range of motion. Patients that experience pain during the exercises should consult with a doctor and physical therapist to develop a personalized exercise plan.

What is ulnar nerve transposition?

When arm exercises and nonsurgical treatments fail, doctors may recommend nerve transposition. During nerve transposition, a surgeon will reposition the ulnar nerve by moving the nerve closer to the skin or removing the funny bone. Ulnar nerve transposition can significantly improve a person’s range of motion within a year after the surgery.

Surgical recovery and outcome

Patients will need to wear a splint for at least a few weeks after the surgery. Physical therapy exercises can improve the arm’s strength and range of motion. Severe cases may not regain 100% normal function, but most cases transition into slow and gradual growth of the nerve and no pain. For more information about treatment options, speak with a healthcare provider.

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