Cubital tunnel release is a surgical procedure to address cubital tunnel syndrome, a disorder of the ulnar nerve in the arm. In this procedure, a surgeon cuts the connective tissue known as fascia that surrounds the nerve to relieve compression and alleviate the patient's symptoms. This is one of the more conservative treatments for cubital tunnel syndrome and may be highly effective in some patients.
Patients with cubital tunnel syndrome notice symptoms like numbness, tingling, weakness, and poor muscle control in the lower arm as a result of compression on the ulnar nerve as it passes through the elbow joint. These symptoms may get worse over time and can eventually cause muscle wasting in the hand. Once the muscles of the hand start to break down, there is no surgical treatment, and the patient may be left with a permanent disability.
In the cubital tunnel release procedure, the surgeon makes a small incision to access the fascia and slit it open, allowing more room for the nerve to move around. This endoscopic procedure is minimally invasive and carries a much lower risk of complications. Patients may notice some inflammation around the surgical site in the first few days after surgery, along with some pain. As they recover, the symptoms should resolve and the patient should experience more mobility in the lower arm.
Doctors may recommend cubital tunnel release before more invasive surgeries that involve trimming away bone or moving the nerve as a decompression technique. The doctor may request some medical imaging studies of the involved area to determine which treatment would be most appropriate, and can provide information about the surgery options. Patients with concerns about surgery can also discuss what might happen if they choose to wait on the surgery. Usually doctors only recommend surgery as a last resort, and delaying might cause complications, but waiting to perform it could be an option in some cases.
While preparing for a cubital tunnel release, patients may find it helpful to get information about aftercare. In the days immediately following the surgery, all patients need to exercise care to avoid straining the surgical site. This could include avoiding heavy weights and strenuous physical activities to give the body a chance to heal. Some patients may need physical therapy after the cubital tunnel release surgery to redevelop strength and control in the lower arm.