Cubital tunnel syndrome is one of several common arm pain conditions. Your cubital tunnel is the groove on the inside of your elbow, also called the “funny bone.” The funny thing about the funny bone is that it is not actually a bone at all. It is the ulnar nerve that gives sensation of pain and tingling if you hit your funny bone. Your ulnar nerve begins in your neck and passes through the cubital tunnel on its way to your hand.
What causes cubital tunnel syndrome?
When you move your elbow, the ulnar nerve both stretches and slides through your cubital tunnel. If your ulnar nerve is “stuck” in the tunnel and does not glide when you flex your elbow, this leads to traction and irritation of the nerve. The nerve can be irritated from direct compression, like leaning your elbow on the edge of a desk. Also, arthritic spurs from elbow arthritis may close down the cubital tunnel. This problem is the second most common nerve compression problem in the arm, behind carpal tunnel syndrome.
Irritation of the ulnar nerve in the cubital tunnel causes pain, numbness, and/or tingling radiating from your elbow into your fourth and fifth fingers. Your symptoms can vary from a vague increased sensitivity to significant pain. The symptoms are common at night and often progress over time. In severe cases, you may begin to lose grip strength and fine muscle control.
Who is at risk?
Cubital tunnel syndrome commonly occurs in throwing, bat, and racquet sports. Workers who keep their elbows flexed, such as when holding a tool or telephone, are at an increased risk of this disorder. Also, those who press the ulnar nerve against a hard surface like a desk can cause local swelling and ulnar nerve compression. Cubital tunnel syndrome affects men three to eight times as often as women. It is more common in those who have diabetes or are overweight.
What are non-surgical treatment options?
Soft tissue manipulation, cervical spine adjustments, neuromobilization, and specific exercises/stretches are key treatments for cubital tunnel syndrome. Your doctor of chiropractic will discuss your condition and provide a custom treatment plan to best meet your goals. You should try to avoid prolonged elbow flexion or direct pressure over your elbow. Our office may prescribe a nighttime elbow splint that limits flexion.