Ulnar neuropathy, sometimes referred to as ulnar nerve palsy or cubital tunnel syndrome, is a condition in which pressure or damage to the ulnar nerve causes symptoms and dysfunction in your hands and fingers. Symptoms can come and go as you move your arm and bend your elbow, so you can see how bothersome this could be throughout your day. In today’s blog, we take a closer look at ulnar neuropathy and explain how Dr. Chang and his team can help successfully treat the condition.
Your ulnar nerve is responsible for transmitting brain signals to the muscles in your hand and forearm, but if the nerve becomes damaged after an acute injury or over time due to a series of smaller traumas, ulnar neuropathy can set in. If the nerve is damaged or compressed, blood flow and the transmission of these electrical stimuli can decrease.
We most commonly see ulnar nerve compression after severe trauma that involves fractures, dislocations or a severe twisting of the elbow, like you might experience in a car accident, a fall or during athletic competition. It’s also common in older individuals who have been working manual labor or performing repetitive tasks at their place of employment for decades. Regularly flexing of the elbow joint can ever so slowly damage the joint over an extended period of time.
Symptoms of ulnar neuropathy include:
Considering how often we use our arms and elbows, it’s pretty easy to see how annoying a condition like ulnar neuropathy can be. Actions that you once took for granted, like playing the piano or opening a jar of pickles may now be difficult or painful to perform. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, consider actively treating the problem because it’s unlikely to go away on its own.
Your doctor may recommend conservative treatments or a more invasive operation based on your dysfunction. However, most patients respond well to non-operative options.
The most common treatment option for ulnar neuropathy is developing and sticking to a physical therapy routine. Exercises will help to strength key muscles groups in the area and to prevent symptom progression. Your physical therapist can also educate you on the actions and movements that worsen the condition so you can avoid activities that could lead to compression or nerve damage.
Painkillers and over-the-counter medications can also help provide short-term relief from ulnar neuropathy. Some patients may also pursue a corticosteroid injection to provide extended relief, although physical therapy will likely be recommended alongside an injection to provide best treatment results.
If conservative care techniques fail to provide relief, surgery in the form of ulnar nerve decompression could be in order. During the operation, the surgeon works to create more space in the cubital tunnel for the nerve to pass through unimpeded. This surgery can be performed on a minimally invasive basis, and it tends to provide great results for patients whose symptoms are being caused by nerve impingement as opposed to nerve damage.
So if you are suffering from finger or hand weakness, or you develop a tingling sensation when you move your arm and elbow in certain directions, reach out to Dr. Chang’s office to see how we can help put an end to these symptoms.