While carpal tunnel syndrome is likely the most well-known nerve compression problem in the arm, the second most common nerve compression problem also causes symptoms for millions of Americans each year. We’re talking of course about cubital tunnel syndrome. This condition involves ulnar nerve compression at the elbow, and considering how often we bend and flex our arms, it’s easy to see how painful this problem can be. In today’s blog, we take a close look at the causes and treatment options for cubital tunnel syndrome.
Causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
As we alluded to in the introduction, cubital tunnel syndrome is brought on by compression or pressure on the ulnar nerve, which runs down your arm and in close proximity to your elbow joint. As it runs down your arm, the ulnar nerve passes under a bony bump known as the medial epicondyle on the inside part of your elbow. This area is somewhat unprotected, and you know what it feels like to bump that area if you’ve ever accidently hit your funny bone. In fact, your funny bone isn’t a bone at all, that sensation actually occurs when you irritate your ulnar nerve as it passes by your elbow.
So while we know what it feels like to bump the area and feel a shooting sensation for an instant, what causes prolonged compression and nerve irritation? Oftentimes, it’s caused by years of stress and nerve stretching as a result of repetitive actions. Workers who perform the same repetitive motions for years are more likely to develop cubital tunnel syndrome, especially if they regularly bend and straighten their arms in the process. Any repetitive actions like bending, pulling and lifting can lead to cubital tunnel syndrome onset. Aside from nerve strain from repetitive motion, bone spur formation in the elbow or degenerative changes from arthritis can also irritate the ulnar nerve and lead to cubital tunnel syndrome.
Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Tingling sensation
- Burning sensation
- Intermittent pain
Aside from pain and discomfort, more serious cases of cubital tunnel syndrome can cause additional issues, like decreased grip strength and weakened hand function. That’s why it’s so important to visit a physical therapist at the first sign of dysfunction.
Diagnosing and Treating Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
You don’t need to visit a specialist in order to have your cubital syndrome treated, all you need to do is to set up an appointment with a physical therapist. Through some simple manipulation tests and a review of your symptoms, a physical therapist can help pinpoint the issue with your ulnar nerve and develop a comprehensive treatment plan.
For most mild and moderate cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, treatment involves a combination of strength training with physical therapy exercises and activity avoidance. Your physical therapist will begin by talking about your daily activities and which actions make discomfort increase. They’ll explain which types of activities should be avoided or limited to help protect the area and give it time for the irritation to fade.
Once activity avoidance has been covered, they’ll walk you through a physical therapy routine that targets the nearby muscles and joint to help reduce the likelihood that the nerve will become irritated. Oftentimes we can give you a set of exercises that you can perform from the comfort of your home to continue your rehab, meaning you may only need to come into the clinic one time in order to get a grip on your cubital tunnel syndrome. Additionally, you may be prescribed an elbow sleeve or brace to help provide extra support to the area while you work through your rehab.
In rare instances, surgery may be required, and then rehabilitation would follow a similar path that is guided by a physical therapy routine.
For more information, or for help with your elbow discomfort, reach out to the talented team of physical therapists at OrthoRehab Specialists today.