What is ulnar nerve entrapment?

The ulnar nerve extends down the arm, across the elbow and into the hand. It controls many small muscles in the hand and provides sensation to the ring and little fingers. When you hit your “funny bone,” you actually bump the ulnar nerve.

What are the causes of ulnar nerve entrapment?

If the nerve becomes inflamed from a more severe injury, such as an elbow fracture or dislocation, it can become trapped between bones and other tissues in the cubital tunnel at the inside of the elbow.

Inflammation can also occur if the ulnar nerve undergoes prolonged pressure. Every time the elbow bends, pressure is put on the ulnar nerve. Over time, the nerve may lose its ability to conduct signals from the brain. The muscles of the hand may gradually weaken.

Diabetics, alcoholics and people with arthritis are at increased risk for the condition.

What are the symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment?

Symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment include:

  • Numbness in the ring and little fingers, particularly at night
  • Numbness in the hand, particularly when the elbow is bent
  • Muscle weakness
  • Decreased coordination
  • Tenderness on the inside of the elbow

Diagnosis may involve an electrical nerve conduction test, X-rays, or other imaging procedures.

Is surgery necessary for ulnar nerve entrapment?

In some cases, a surgery that involves moving the nerve to the front of the elbow may be required. This surgery is performed under general anesthesia – you will be put to sleep.

Dr. Ahuja simply makes a small incision on the inside of your elbow and removes the portion of the medial epicondyle that is irritating the ulnar nerve. This is a quick procedure, generally completed in about five minutes.

You should feel relief not only in your elbow and arm but in the fingers as well because they are controlled by the ulnar nerve. The area is closed with small sutures that will need to be removed in 7-10 days. Return to work can occur when your arm has improved, usually in 2 weeks.

What are non-surgical treatment options for ulnar nerve entrapment?

Treatments may include wearing a splint at night, keeping the elbow as straight as possible. Medication to treat inflammation and pain may also be necessary.