Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

What is cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome happens when the ulnar nerve, which passes through the cubital tunnel (a tunnel of muscle, ligament, and bone) on the inside of the elbow, becomes inflamed, swollen, and irritated.

Cubital tunnel syndrome causes pain that feels a lot like the pain you feel when you hit the "funny bone" in your elbow. The "funny bone" in the elbow is actually the ulnar nerve, a nerve that crosses the elbow. The ulnar nerve starts in the side of your neck and ends in your fingers.

Inside side view of elbow showing forearm muscles and ulnar nerve in cubital tunnel.

What are the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome?

The following are the most common symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome:

  • Numbness and tingling in the hand or ring and little finger, especially when the elbow is bent
  • Numbness and tingling at night
  • Hand pain
  • Weak grip and clumsiness due to muscle weakness in the affected arm and hand
  • Aching pain on the inside of the elbow

The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome may seem like other health conditions or problems, including golfer's elbow (medial epicondylitis). Always see a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is cubital tunnel syndrome diagnosed?

In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic tests for cubital tunnel syndrome may include:

  • Nerve conduction test. This test measures how fast signals travel down a nerve to find a compression or constriction of the nerve.
  • Electromyogram (EMG). This test checks nerve and muscle function and may be used to test the forearm muscles controlled by the ulnar nerve. If the muscles don't work the way they should, it may be a sign that there is a problem with the ulnar nerve.
  • X-ray. This is done to look at the bones of the elbow and see if you have arthritis or bone spurs in your elbow.

How is cubital tunnel syndrome treated?

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

  • Resting and stopping any activity that aggravates the condition, such as bending the elbow
  • A splint or foam elbow brace worn at night (to limit movement and reduce irritation)
  • Using an elbow pad (to protect against chronic irritation from hard surfaces)
  • Anti-inflammatory medicines (such as ibuprofen or naproxen)
  • Nerve gliding exercises

If these treatments don't work, the healthcare provider may talk to you about surgery.

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