Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome feels similar to the pain and tingling or the feeling of an “electric shock” that occurs from hitting the "funny" bone in your elbow. The "funny" bone in the elbow is actually the ulnar nerve - a nerve that runs from the side of the neck and crosses the elbow, ending at the fingers. It is the nerve that provides feeling in the ring and small fingers and motor control and strength for most of the small muscles in the hand.

Causes and Risk Factors

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve, which passes through the cubital tunnel (a tunnel of muscle, ligament and bone) on the inside of the elbow, becomes irritated due to injury or pressure. The condition may occur when a person frequently or repetitively:

  • Bends the elbow such as when pulling, reaching or lifting
  • Keeps the elbow bent for a sustained period
  • Constantly leans on a bent elbow
  • Sustains a direct injury to the area

Symptoms

Symptoms can vary from person to person, but the most common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
  • Numbness in the hand and/or ring and little finger
  • Hand pain
  • Hand and thumb clumsiness due to muscle weakness
  • Wasting or atrophy of the muscles of the hand

The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome may resemble other medical conditions or problems, including medial epicondylitis (golfer's elbow), compression of the ulnar nerve in the hand or compression of nerve roots in the neck. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis

In addition to taking your complete medical history and performing a physical examination, diagnostic procedures for cubital tunnel syndrome may include the following:
  • Nerve conduction test - A test to determine how fast signals travel across a nerve to detect a potential compression or constriction
  • Electromyography (EMG) - A test to evaluate nerve and muscle function; a test of the forearm muscles controlled by the ulnar nerve. If the muscles do not function properly, this may indicate that the ulnar nerve is not functioning properly

Treatment

Treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome will be determined by your physician based on:
  • Your age, overall health and medical history
  • Progression of the condition
  • Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

The most effective treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome is stopping the activity that is causing the problem. Treatment may include:

  • Reducing or ceasing any activity, such as elbow bending, that aggravates the condition
  • A splint or foam elbow pad worn at night to limit movement and reduce irritation
  • Elbow pad (to protect against chronic irritation from hard surfaces)
  • Surgery
Read more about hand and upper extremities conditions treated by our orthopedic surgeons.