Most people have at least a basic understanding of carpal tunnel syndrome, a condition that produces pain, numbness or tingling in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers due to pressure on the median nerve in the wrist.
A lesser-known, yet prevalent “tunnel” condition is cubital tunnel syndrome. Cubital tunnel syndrome has many things in common with carpal tunnel syndrome, but it involves a different nerve in the arm.
The ulnar nerve stretches from the side of the neck down to the hand and provides sensation to the pinky and ring fingers. Like the median nerve in the wrist, the ulnar nerve is susceptible to compression and inflammation, particularly when it’s aggravated in the elbow area. The resulting condition is cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow.
The location of symptoms is the critical differentiating factor between cubital and carpal tunnel syndromes. Dr. Mendoza, an NYC-based orthopaedic shoulder and elbow surgeon, explains what signs to look for and what factors place you at an increased risk for developing cubital tunnel syndrome.
Here are the three signs you may have cubital tunnel syndrome:
- Pain along the inner side of the elbow – Tenderness in the elbow joint is an early indication of ulnar nerve entrapment.
- Numbness and tingling in the hand – It is common to experience numbness or tingling in the ring finger and/or pinky finger, sometimes described as the sensation of “falling asleep”, particularly when the elbow is bent.
- Difficulty with finger coordination or weakness – You may have difficulty using your fingers for everyday activities and motor skills and it may become difficult for you to grip things with your pinky and ring fingers. This may also coincide with a noticeable loss of muscle in the hand.
Some individuals are more likely than others to develop cubital tunnel syndrome because of physical activities, other medical conditions or past injuries.
The risk factors for cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Prior elbow injuries (fractures, dislocations)
- Repeated motions or activities that require the elbow to be bent for extended periods of time (such as leaning on the elbow, weight lifting or sleeping with a bent elbow)
- Arthritis of the elbow
To learn more about this condition and the conservative and surgical treatment options available, check out our blog post titled “All About Cubital Tunnel Syndrome”. You can also get more information by visiting our cubital tunnel syndrome page.
Proper diagnosis of ulnar nerve entrapment requires examination from an experienced physician who can determine whether your symptoms are the result of a stand-alone condition or the result of a more complicated inflammatory disease. If you are experiencing any of the three telltale symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome, call our office at 212-628-9600 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Mendoza or you can make an appointment by filling out the form on this page.