What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

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  • Written By: C. Martin
  • Edited By: Andrew Jones
  • Last Modified Date: 25 December 2018
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Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition where the ulnar nerve becomes trapped, pinched, or compressed in the elbow region. The ulnar nerve is an important nerve that, in humans, runs down the arm and all the way to the ends of the ring finger and the little finger. At the point where the ulnar nerve passes the elbow, there is a region where this nerve is not directly shielded by the bone, and at this location, the nerve is particularly exposed and vulnerable.

The cubital tunnel is a hollow passage formed of bone, muscle, and ligaments, at the inside of the elbow. The ulnar nerve passes through this tunnel as it traverses the elbow. Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when this area becomes injured or inflamed, so it is often seen as part of other elbow problems. Often when the syndrome first starts, the pain and associated symptoms are experienced only transiently, but in persistent cases, the patient usually starts to experience pain almost constantly.


The colloquial turn of phrase “to hit one’s funny bone” is very salient to the discussion of cubital tunnel syndrome. When a person bumps his or her “funny bone” the resulting stimulation of the ulnar nerve results in a sensation that is similar to the pain present as a symptom of cubital tunnel syndrome. Further symptoms include numbness in the fingers and on the palm of the hand, especially when the patient bends his or her elbow. Further hand disorders that can result from cubital tunnel syndrome include, in severe cases, weakness and muscle wastage of the hand, the loss of dexterity, and even deformation of the fingers into a claw-like position.

The disorder may be caused by physical trauma to the cubital tunnel, perhaps caused by a blow, or by a dislocation of the elbow, as nerve compression inside the cubital tunnel can result from such injuries. Other causes may include joint deformities triggered by arthritic conditions, some kinds of tumors, and repetitive movements where a person is habitually bending the elbow more than is typically normal. In the case of the latter situation, cubital tunnel syndrome is often considered a form of repetitive strain injury (RSI). As an RSI, cubital tunnel syndrome may be seen, for example, in workers who are required to operate levers for long stretches of time every day.

There are a number of treatments for cubital tunnel syndrome. Which treatment is most appropriate often depends on the root cause of the disorder. Treatments include physiotherapy, anti-inflammatory medicines, and sometimes surgery.



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