The ulnar nerve is one of three main nerves in your arm. It travels down from your neck into your hand and can be constricted in several places along the way. The elbow is the most common place.
The spot where the ulnar nerve is closest to your skin is in the area called the “funny bone.” With a shock-like symptom similar to the pain you feel when you hit your “funny bone,” cubital tunnel syndrome may occur if you frequently bend, lean on or hit your elbows in your sporting or daily activities.
The ulnar nerve is especially prone to compression at the elbow because it travels through a very narrow space without much soft tissue to protect it. As the nerve stretches over the bony ridge in the elbow, it can become irritated and fluid buildup adds to the compression.
You’re more at risk for developing cubital tunnel syndrome if you:
- Have had previous fractures or dislocations in the elbow
- Have bone spurs or arthritis in the elbow
- Have swelling in the elbow joint
- Have cysts near the elbow joint
- Engage in repetitive and prolonged activities that require the elbow to be bent or flexed
Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome
The symptoms can cause aching pain on the inside of the elbow or affect your hand:
- A feeling of your fingers falling asleep, especially when your elbow is bent — making it harder for your hand to manipulate objects
- Numbness and tingling that comes and goes when you are driving or holding the phone with a bent elbow
- Your grip may feel weakened when you are typing or playing an instrument
- Muscle wasting — a sign that the condition is very severe, and you should see your doctor for treatment
Treatment and recovery
Orthopaedics at Main Line Health offers highly-skilled orthopaedic surgeons with expertise in treating cubital tunnel syndrome and other conditions of the elbow, wrist and hand. We offer an orthopaedic care team to develop a personalized treatment plan for each patient. Our goal is to help relieve your pain and regain maximum mobility in your elbow. Our highly-trained orthopaedic surgeons offer a wide range of nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for joint pain.
Nonsurgical treatment, such as bracing and physical therapy, is usually recommended first. Your doctor may recommend surgery if the nonsurgical methods don’t improve your condition, if the ulnar nerve is very compressed or if compression has caused muscle wasting.