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Cubital Tunnel Syndrome and Decompression

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The cubital tunnel is a groove in a bone near your elbow. The ulnar nerve passes through this groove. Hitting this area causes “funny bone” symptoms. The ulnar nerve can get irritated because of repetitive bending, leaning on the elbow for a long time, or by sustaining an elbow injury. This is referred to as cubital tunnel syndrome. When this happens it can lead to pain or numbness in your ring and pinky fingers, sharp pain with pressure on the elbow, and loss of hand strength. A test called a nerve conduction study is used to confirm the diagnosis. X-rays may also be used to rule out other conditions which could be causing similar symptoms.

Once you have been diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, conservative treatments are recommended. These can include activity modification (using the arm but avoiding repetitive elbow motion), use of anti-inflammatory medication, and use of an elbow splint at night. If these fail to provide relief, surgery may be recommended.

Cubital tunnel decompression is performed to relieve the pressure on the ulnar nerve. In this operation, the ligament that forms the “roof” of the cubital tunnel is cut and divided. This increases the size of the tunnel and decreases pressure on the nerve. After the procedure, the ligament begins to heal and new tissue grows across the division. The new growth heals the ligament, and allows more space for the ulnar nerve to slide through. The doctor will have you use a sling as needed for comfort for the first week after surgery. An ACE bandage will be worn over the elbow and will be discontinued once the stiches are removed 3 weeks after surgery. The timeline for return to work will be dependent on job duties. Return to full use with no restrictions is allowed 6 weeks after surgery. If the scar remains sensitive, an Occupational Therapist can provide scar desensitization treatments.

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