What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Cubital tunnel syndrome is pain coming from the ulnar nerve in which it begins in the neck and travels along the inside of the arm, passing behind the ‘funny bone’. Most commonly people experience cubital tunnel syndrome as either pain or pins and needles along the inside of the forearm or along the little finger.
What causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Cubital tunnel syndrome typically occurs by a direct trauma in the following ways:
- Through repeated external compression which causes the nerve to become swollen and/or hypersensitive
- Through repeated stretch when there is looseness (laxity) in the ligaments that support the inside of the elbow, such as in throwing or racquet sports.
- May occur in specific medical conditions, including diabetes and haemophilia.
In severe cases, the pain or pins and needles can progress to loss of sensation along the little finger or the little and ring fingers begin to develop a claw-like appearance.
How do I know if I have a Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Your GP can arranage a nerve conduction test to assess the condition of the nerve and site of the compression otherwise it can be diagnosed through a variety of symptoms such as pain along the inside of your forearm and/or little finger, and tenderness behind your funny bone that reproduces your pain.
How can physiotherapy help with Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
To ensure the treatment is correct for your condition you physiotherapist will need to accurately assess and differentiate the source of your elbow pain. Through the process of a detailed history and examination, they will determine the source of your pain and the contribution of factors such as posture and workload.
Management is vital to try and prevent damage to the nerve through either ongoing trauma or secondary inflammation and swelling. If there is loss of sensation or muscle power, the outcome is generally less-favourable, so time is of the essence. Therefore getting help as quickly as possible is the best thing. Your physiotherapist may instruct you to tape your wrist to ensure there is no further damage. Mobilisation of the neck may be used to assist with the mobility of the nerve including stretches. If there are issues with posture it may be recommended to complete stretching and strengthening exercises for improvement.
What can I do at home?
You can complete simple exercises and stretches at home when prescribed by your GP or Physiotherapist in which can help reduce pain. Ibuprofen or ice may be used to reduce inflammation.
How long until my recovery?
Cubital tunnel syndrome can resolve within a number of weeks when the issues have been discovered early and pain can be reduced by taping. Though more severe cases, when patients have had symptoms for a few months it may take up to 3–6 months to recover.
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Reference: Australian Physiotherapy Association 2019, Your Body, viewed 19 November 2019, < https://australian.physio/>.