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What Causes Ulnar Nerve Entrapment?

man with pain in his hand and fingersIf you’re experiencing numbness, weakness, or tingling in your fingers or elbow, it might be caused by ulnar nerve entrapment.

In this blog, Dr. Ather Mirza and Dr. Justin Mirza, orthopedic physicians at Mirza Orthopedics, explain what ulnar nerve entrapment is and what causes this condition.

What is an ulnar nerve entrapment?

The ulnar nerve, which is one of three main nerves in your arm, travels from your neck down into your hand. It controls movement and provides feeling for parts of the hand, but along the way, it can become compressed or irritated (entrapped).

This can happen in several different places, including underneath the collarbone or at the wrist. The most common place for ulnar nerve entrapment is behind the inside part of the elbow, because the nerve is near the surface and has to travel through the small cubital tunnel in the elbow. (That’s why ulnar nerve entrapment in this location is also called cubital tunnel syndrome.)

When the ligament that surrounds the nerve becomes thickened, it puts pressure on the nerve, causing symptoms.

What are the symptoms?         

Ulnar nerve entrapment can cause the following symptoms:

  • Weakness or tenderness in your hand
  • Numbness and tingling in the palm and in the ring fingers, especially when your elbow is bent
  • Weakening of your grip and trouble with finger coordination
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Tenderness in your elbow
  • Muscle wasting in your hand – in severe or long-lasting cases

What are the causes of ulnar nerve entrapment?

Sometimes the cause can’t be determined because the nerve is vulnerable to compression as it passes through the narrow space at the elbow with little soft tissue to offer protection.

Common causes of entrapment include:

  • Repeated bending of your elbow or bending it for long periods of time
  • Leaning on your elbow for long periods of time
  • Injuries, including fractures and dislocations
  • Fluid buildup, sometimes caused by hormonal changes during pregnancy
  • Conditions that can cause nerve damage (such as diabetes or arthritis)
  • Tumors or cysts
  • Movement of the nerve back and forth as you bend and straighten your elbow

 What are the treatment options?

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and how long they’ve lasted, your doctor may be able to try conservative methods of treatment first. These can include the following:

  • Taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) – These medicines (which include ibuprofen) can reduce swelling.
  • Wearing a brace or splint at night to immobilize your elbow
  • Performing exercises to strengthen ligaments and tendons and help prevent stiffness

In some cases, surgery may be recommended, particularly if more conservative treatments aren’t effective.

Types of surgery include the following:

  • Cubital tunnel release – surgery that cuts a ligament that makes up part of the cubital tunnel so that when it heals, the nerve has more room
  • Ulnar nerve anterior transposition – moving the ulnar nerve to a new location in the elbow, which prevents it from moving back and forth and stretching

If you’re experiencing weakness, numbness or tingling that could be a sign of ulnar nerve entrapment, make an appointment today with Mirza Orthopedics. We offer a unique cutting-edge, minimally invasive cubital tunnel release procedure that was developed by Dr. Ather Mirza. It results in better patient outcomes as well as less pain and a smaller incision.

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