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Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is a condition where the nerves in the elbow are compressed causing pain and inflammation.    

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is a condition where the nerves in the elbow are compressed causing pain and inflammation.   

middle aged man dressed in white performing tai chi without the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome in his elbows

What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Also known as Ulnar Nerve Entrapment, Cubital Tunnel Syndrome is a condition that stems from ulnar nerve compression or entrapment at the elbow. The most common cause is frequent elbow bending, localised injury, bone spurs and previous fracture. Any activity that involves putting pressure on your elbow for extended periods of time may contribute to the development of this condition.

The most common symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome include numbness and tingling in the hands and fingers, or a general feeling of weakness in the hands. You may also feel an aching pain in the elbow or notice that your fingers tend to “fall asleep” or go numb, particularly when the elbow is bent. Left untreated, this condition can lead to more serious conditions such as muscle wasting in the hand.

In order to diagnose Cubital Tunnel Syndrome, your doctor will conduct a physical examination. This process generally involves several tests which are designed to examine the effect of nerve compression on the nerves and muscles in your hand. Your doctor may tap the nerve at the funny bone to gauge your sensitivity, testing how long it takes for a sensation to travel down the arm, and check how the positions of your neck, shoulder, elbow, and wrist affect your symptoms. If necessary, they may also request an X-ray.
Non-surgical treatments for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome can be very effective, beginning with simple activity modification. The best way to minimise symptoms is by keeping your arms straight and avoiding leaning or putting pressure on the inner or outside of the elbow. In some cases, these simple modifications are enough to eliminate the symptoms altogether. However, if the nerve compression has progressed to a point where nonsurgical treatments are insufficient, you may need Ulnar nerve surgery.

Generally, patients of ulnar nerve release surgery experience positive outcomes and regain strength in the affected hand or hands. Still, the best way to enhance your recovery prospects is to follow a rehabilitation program created by your doctor. Ultimately, the results of surgery and rehabilitation depend on the extent of damage to the nerve. Results are often improved by following recovery and rehabilitation plans. 

Whilst the majority of people who undergo elbow surgery do well and are very happy with their results, there are risks which are specific to elbow surgery in addition to the general risks of surgery. This includes deep infection, injury to the nerves tendons or blood vessels close to the surgical field which may require further surgery, stiffness or loss of motion, developing abnormal bone formation such as heterotopic ossification or myositis ossificans, ongoing pain, instability, fracture of the bones and abnormal pain responses such as Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS).

Most of these risks are low and less than 5% but stiffness is not uncommon but usually resolves with time with physiotherapy. It is important to be aware of these risks before consenting to surgery. There are also risks relating to the specific type of elbow surgery that you are having, which Dr Cheriachan will discuss with you in detail during your consultation.

Recovering from Cubital Tunnel Syndrome can take from as little as several weeks to several months. With adequate time symptoms such as numbness or tingling will reduce. Following your doctor’s recommendations for physical therapy is key to making a complete recovery. It may take up to four or five months for your arm to return to full strength capacity.

Preparing for your visit

Dr Cheriachan consults from Norwest on Wednesdays and Blacktown on Mondays and Thursdays.

Your first visit will be used to carefully assess your condition as well as gathering all related health information. It is important that you bring all relevant documents including scans and x-rays. We also ask that you wear clothing that allows freedom of movement as your visit will include a physical examination. 

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