The ulnar nerve runs down the arm and cuts behind the elbow on the way to the hand. Many people can appreciate this nerve as their funny bone.
Banging your elbow creates a unique tingling sensation down the arm and into the little finger. The sensation is causes by compressing the ulnar nerve against the bone. With a quick bang, the sensation returns to normal after a few seconds.
However, prolonged compression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow causes long term pain, tingling, and muscle weakness. People usually complain of medial forearm pain and changing sensations into the little and ring finger.
Causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome is also called Flexor Carpi Ulnaris Muscle Syndrome. A common cause of compression occurs between the two heads of the flexor carpi ulnaris muscle. When the muscle becomes overused or undergoes chronic repetitive stress of the inside of the elbow, the muscles spasm and compress the ulnar nerve. Bone spurs or arthritis in the elbow can also cause compression of the ulnar nerve.
Pressure is increased on the nerve with elbow flexion and wrist extension. The cocking motion of throwing dramatically increases the stress and compression of the ulnar nerve. People who work with their elbows flexed are at increased risk of developing Cubital Tunnel Syndrome.
Treatment of ulnar nerve compression at the elbow
Home treatment consists of rest and avoidance of activities. Throwing activities should be limited, in addition to repetitive arm movements. Gripping and grabbing movements cause contraction of the flexor carpi ulnaris muscle and should be limited. When typing, some people rest their elbows on a hard table, which can cause compression of the nerve. Rotating ice for 10 minutes on and 10 minutes off will help to decrease the inflammation and muscle spasms. A night splint that flexes the elbow to 45 degrees will also help.
Office treatments will continue to decrease muscle spasms and identify the location of nerve compression. When the compression is caused by spasming flexor carpi ulnaris muscle, treatment will consists of stretching and muscle therapy. Active release technique, Graston Technique, and massage therapy are very beneficial for nerve entrapment injuries. Additional physiotherapy of modalities may be used for decreasing the inflammation.
Anti-inflammatory medication provides benefit in many cases. Additional treatment options include injection therapies or surgery if conservative treatment fails.
Compression of the Ulnar Nerve at the Cubital Tunnel or Flexor Carpi Ulnaris Muscle can be treated with conservative treatment in most cases. Increased numbness, tingling, and muscle weakness relates to the severity of the injury. Treatment is always easier and quicker when the injury is smaller. Seeking help from an experienced provider if you suspect you may be suffering from any nerve entrapment syndrome.