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Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

The ulnar nerve, or what some refer to as the "funny bone," is one of three major nerves in the arm, running from the neck to the hand. Sometimes, the ulnar nerve can become compressed or irritated causing numbness and tingling in the hand and fingers – especially in the ring finger and pinky.

Ulnar nerve compression usually occurs around the elbow joint, a condition called cubital tunnel syndrome. Much less often, compression can occur at the wrist, a condition sometimes known as Guyon canal syndrome.

Ulnar nerve entrapment symptoms also include a weak grip, difficulty controlling movement, and pain or tenderness. If left untreated this condition could escalate to muscle weakness and permanent injury to the arm or hand.

Ulnar nerve entrapment can be caused by:

  • Leaning on your elbow for long periods of time
  • Repetitive movement or exercise
  • The nerve sliding out when the elbow is bent
  • Arthritis
  • Fluid buildup or swelling
  • A direct blow to the nerve
  • Bone spurs or cysts

MR neurography imaging of cubital tunnel syndrome.
MR neurography images of a healthy ulnar nerve (top row) and an entrapped ulnar nerve in cubital tunnel syndrome (bottom row). The abnormal signal hyperintensity (brightness) of the nerve indicates neuropathy, with the nerve enlarged as it courses through the cubital tunnel at the elbow.

Treatment for ulnar nerve entrapment

Depending on the severity, a physician might recommend conservative, nonsurgical treatments first. These include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Elbow braces or splints
  • Exercise and physical therapy
  • Avoiding movements that aggravate condition

If nonsurgical methods do not improve the condition, or if the entrapment is too severe, surgery may be required. The most common surgical procedures to correct ulnar nerve entrapment are:

  • Cubital tunnel release: a surgery that releases the structures around the ulnar nerve which may be compressing the nerve
  • Ulnar nerve anterior transposition: this procedure moves the ulnar nerve to prevent it from being compressed or stretched

Your surgeon will be able to determine the best method to correct this condition and the appropriate aftercare and recovery. Physical therapy is typically not required or is only needed in a limited capacity after surgery. Read the HSS patient stories below or find the best surgeon at HSS for your particular condition and insurance.

Ulnar Nerve Entrapment Success Stories

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