Cubital tunnel is behind your “funny bone” on the inside of your elbow. Behind the funny bone (medial epicondyle), the tunnel is formed by the bone surrounded by muscles and ligaments. The ulnar nerve passes through the cubital tunnel on its way from the arm to the forearm and hand.
What is a syndrome?
A syndrome is a combination of symptoms and physical findings that characterizes a certain disease.
What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
In normal subjects, bending the elbow causes the nerve to stretch several millimeters. When this is done repeatedly for activities that require repeated bending and straightening of the elbow in the workplace, the nerve becomes irritated and inflamed. In other patients, the nerve shifts and actually snap over the prominence of the medial epicondyle. This snapping motion stretches and irritates the nerve. Leaning on the elbow, or resting the elbow on an elbow rest during a long distance drive or running machinery may cause repetitive pressure and irritation on the nerve. A direct hit on the tunnel may damage the ulnar nerve.
Early signs are numbness on the inside of the hand and in the ring and little fingers. Later there is weakness of the hand. There may be pain at the elbow. Tapping on the nerve as it passes through the cubital tunnel causes tingling or electric shock sensation down to the small finger.
The early symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome usually respond to stopping the activity that is causing the symptoms. The amount of time you perform tasks that require repeated bending and straightening of the elbow should be reduced. Take frequent breaks from work- at least five minutes every half an hour. If the symptoms are worse at night because you sleep with your elbow bent, a thin pillow may be wrapped around the elbow to splint the elbow in a straight position.
If the symptoms fail to respond to activity modifications and an elbow splint, surgery may be required to stop progression of damage to the ulnar nerve. The operation moves the ulnar nerve from behind the medial epicondyle to the front of the medial epicondyle. This gives the nerve some slack and removes the stretching of the nerve.