What is cubital tunnel syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms may include numbness in your small fingers or pain in your forearm.

woman with cubital tunnel syndrome

When you feel numbness in your small fingers or pain in your forearm, do not just ignore these signs as these could be symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. But what is this condition all about?

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a case in which the ulnar nerves are pressured that can bring a tingling or numb feeling in your forearm, hand, and small fingers. Before knowing more about this syndrome, you should learn more about the ulnar nerve.

There are three main nerves found in your arm. One of these is the ulnar nerve which travels from the neck to the hand. Since the passage of this nerve is too long, there are some cases wherein the nerve will be stretched too much or get pressured. The area that is most likely to have a problem is your elbow. When the nerve in your elbow is compressed, it is then called a cubital tunnel syndrome.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Cause

The main cause of this ailment is still unknown. This is because the ulnar nerve is too vulnerable that a simple pressure can immediately result in the syndrome. With this, here are the possible causes of this condition:

  1. You have a high probability of getting this ailment when there is a fluid buildup in the elbow. The fluid can cause swelling that would end up pressuring the nerve.
  2. Keeping your elbow bent for a long time. This could irritate the nerve and thus the condition.
  3. There is a chance to have this syndrome as well when you hit your elbow with too much force.
  4. When the nerve does not stay in its place, it can end up being irritated and eventually lead to the condition.

Other possible causes could be elbow fractures, cysts in the elbow, and swelling of the elbow joint, to name a few.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

One of the first signs of this disorder is when your elbow aches. You might experience the following symptoms as well:

  • When you cannot move your ring finger properly. This is usually called “falling asleep” and occurs when the elbow is bent.
  • When there is a numb or tingling feeling in your ring finger. This can happen when your elbow is bent or when you are sleeping.
  • There is also a high possibility that you experience muscle wasting.
  • Another symptom could be the loss of ability to use your little finger or thumb.
  • You will also have a hard time handling materials using your hand.
  • You can experience a claw-like deformity.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosis

Once the symptoms show, it is best that you go to your doctor. Before undergoing any test, the doctor will first ask about your medical history, the symptoms, your work, and so on. Then he or she will examine your hand to your arm to see where the compressed area is. He or she will ask you to do the following:

  • Check how you move your hand and fingers.
  • Bend your elbow to see if the nerve moves normally.
  • Tap your nerve found in your bone to see if you will feel pain.
  • Move your wrist, elbow, shoulder, and neck.

Afterward, you will undergo different tests including:


This type of test will not show if your nerve is compressed. But the imaging test can check if you are suffering from other ailments that can be related to cubital tunnel syndrome such as arthritis and bone spurs.

Nerve Conduction Studies

Unlike x-rays, nerve conduction studies can see if your nerve is working or not. In this test, the nerve is stimulated to test if it is damaged. The response would take some time. But when the response is too long, it might be because the area is compressed. This type of diagnosis can also determine if the cause of your condition is because of muscle damage.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

There are different ways you can cure and prevent having this ailment. One prevention that could work is having a towel or pillow by your arm so you will not have to bend your elbow while sleeping. Using bracing can also help you keep your elbow straight, especially at night. You can also go to a hand therapist for you to know different ways you can do to avoid putting pressure on your nerve.

There can be instances as well that the doctor will ask you to take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen. The objective of these medicines is to reduce the swelling of your nerve. In some cases, the doctor might recommend that you do nerve gliding exercises. These will eliminate the stiffness in your wrist and arm.

In worst cases, the doctor will require you to undergo surgery. This is only advisable when the nerve is severely compressed, when the muscle is too weak, or if any of the aforementioned treatments did not work. The surgery will depend on your condition.

One of the surgeries available for cubital tunnel syndrome is cubital tunnel release. During this procedure, the ligament of the cubital tunnel is divided. It will then make the tunnel longer but reduce the pressure in the nerve. This treatment is given to patients with a milder condition.

Another surgery for cubital tunnel syndrome is ulnar nerve anterior transposition. This type of surgery will change the position of the nerve to eliminate the pressure. The nerve is then placed in front of the medial epicondyle so that when you bend your elbow, there is a lower risk of your nerve being compressed.

Lastly, there is the Medial epicondylectomy. This removes a part of the medial epicondyle to prevent the nerve from stretching every time the elbow is bent. It is important to note that the recovery for all surgeries will take around three to six weeks.

The doctor can also require you to take physical therapy to help you regain strength. This can also help you get back to your usual routine without experiencing pain in your elbow.

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