Have you ever bumped into a piece of furniture and knocked your “funny bone” so that you feel immediate tingling pain? What we refer to as a funny bone isnt the bone itself at all. Instead, it is the ulnar nerve. It runs from the upper arm over the elbow and down to the lower arm through something called the cubital tunnel. As it wraps around the outer part of the elbow, it is especially susceptible to getting bumped, leaving pain, tingling, and numbness to the lower arm and hand.
Some people develop cubital tunnel syndrome, which is similar to carpal tunnel in the wrist, but affects this ulnar nerve specifically. When the nerve becomes compressed or inflamed, you will feel the same pain you would if you had bumped your funny bone, but in a more severe and ongoing basis. This is cubital tunnel syndrome and it can be caused by a few different issues.
Causes of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
The main cause of cubital tunnel syndrome comes from pressure on the funny bone area. If you feel your elbow on the outside, you will notice a groove between two bone endings. This is where the cubital tunnel lies. If direct pressure is placed on this area, it can compress the nerve and you will start feeling tingling and numbness in the ring finger and pinky finger. Over time, the constant compression of the area can lead to inflammation on the ulnar nerve.
If you keep your elbow bent at an intense angle for a long period of time, this can overstretch the cubital tunnel and ulnar nerve until it becomes inflamed and swollen. This is most often a problem when people sleep at night.
For some people, there is something off with their anatomy and this leads to the ulnar nerve sliding over the bump of bone in the elbow. This repetitive motion will result in damage to the nerve and inflammation in the soft tissue around it.
The Symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome
The most common symptom will feel as if the ring and pinky fingers on the hand have gone to sleep. The experience of “pins and needles” is a regular complaint as well. It may worsen if you need to hold your elbow bent for a long time. Many people notice this when they hold their phone to their ear. This is often a common reason fingers go to sleep. Other symptoms besides the asleep feeling include:
- Weakness in the hand
- Clumsiness in the hand
- Loss of strength
- Loss of sensation in the hand
Sometimes, cubital tunnel syndrome can be treated by splinting the arm to keep it straight while you sleep. You may also need to go to therapy and learn ways to avoid putting pressure on your elbow. If the problem is severe, then you may need surgery to release tendons and relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve.
Cubital tunnel syndrome most often occurs when you put constant pressure or strain on the funny bone portion of the elbow, but it can be relieved with treatment.