Cubital tunnel syndrome, also known as ulnar nerve entrapment, is a condition that can result in pain that feels similar to hitting your “funny bone” in your elbow.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Surgery Overview
What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
In your elbow, the ulnar nerve travels through a tunnel called the cubital tunnel. It runs under a bone on the inside of the elbow. Cubital tunnel syndrome happens when the ulnar nerve is injured and becomes irritated, swollen, and painful.
Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:
- Numbness or tingling on the little and ring finger (“pins and needles” feeling)
- Symptoms start intermittent but can become constant
- The hand can become weak
- Hand pain
- An aching feeling inside the elbow
- Visible loss of muscle (back of the hand and between the thumb and first finger)
- Loss of motion and dexterity
What are the Causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
In many cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, there isn’t an obvious cause. However, the cubital tunnel can be narrowed by an injury or arthritis.
The condition can also occur through repeating the same movement, specifically in a person who bends their elbows a lot. Previous fractures and dislocations can also cause cubital tunnel syndrome.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Treatment
Initial stages of treatment tend to include non-surgical approaches, such as:
- Avoiding activities that require bending the elbow a lot
- Creating an ergonomic work environment if you use a computer
- Avoiding putting pressure on the inside of the elbow
- Keeping the elbow straight at night
- Nerve gliding exercises
- Cubital tunnel syndrome splint or brace
In some cases where there is no improvement or there is a lot of pressure on the ulnar nerve, then your doctor may recommend cubital tunnel syndrome surgery.
What Happens During Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Surgery?
Cubital tunnel release, or ulnar nerve release surgery, typically takes between 30-45 minutes to perform. Like the procedure for carpal tunnel syndrome, cubital tunnel release surgery helps ease the pressure on the ulnar nerve. The surgeon will cut and separate the ligament to take the pressure off the ulnar nerve. This creates more space in the ulnar tunnel.
The procedure can be performed under general or local anaesthetic. Your surgeon will make an incision on the back of the inner part of the elbow. They will cut any tissue that’s putting pressure on the nerve. Next, they will close the incision with stitches.
How Long Does it Take to Recover from Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Surgery?
Recovery from ulnar nerve release surgery can vary from one person to another. After your surgery, you will have a dressing and may need a sling. You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure.
You may need to wear a splint for a few weeks. But in general, most patients can resume normal activities soon after the procedure. Depending on your job, you may be able to go back to work in a couple of weeks with some limits on activity in the beginning. Cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms can improve quickly or may take several months to clear up. In severe cases, the recovery timeline can be longer.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Surgery Risks, Complications, and Side Effects
Like all surgical procedures, there are possible risks of cubital tunnel syndrome surgery, including:
- Anaesthetic risks
- Continued symptoms
Surgery for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome at The Harley Clinic
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