Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel release surgery is the surgery to correct the cubital tunnel syndrome. Cubital tunnel syndrome, also called ulnar nerve entrapment is a condition caused by compression of the ulnar nerve in an area of the elbow called the cubital tunnel. The ulnar nerve travels down the back of the elbow behind the bony bump called the medial epicondyle and through a passageway called the cubital tunnel. The cubital tunnel is a narrow passageway on the inside of the elbow formed by bone, muscle, and ligaments with the ulnar nerve passing through its center. The roof of the cubital tunnel is covered with soft tissue called fascia. When the elbow is bent, the ulnar nerve can stretch and catch on the bony bump. When the ulnar nerve is compressed or entrapped, the nerve can tear and become inflamed leading to various symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome usually occur gradually, progressing to the point where the patient seeks medical attention. Left untreated, cubital tunnel syndrome can lead to permanent nerve damage in the hand. Commonly reported symptoms associated with cubital tunnel syndrome include intermittent numbness, tingling, and pain to the little finger, ring finger, and the inside of the hand. These symptoms occur more frequently at night, and with elbow bending or prolonged resting on the elbow.

Injury to the elbow such as fractures, dislocations, or a direct blow can cause tissue swelling which can compress the ulnar nerve within the cubital tunnel. Individuals who perform repetitive elbow flexion movements at work or play are believed to be at high risk for developing cubital tunnel syndrome. Repeatedly bending and straightening the elbow can irritate and inflame the ulnar nerve. Leaning on the elbow for extended periods of time such as when working at a desk can also cause ulnar nerve irritation. Bone spurs, ganglion cysts, or tumors can form in the cubital tunnel leading to pressure and irritation of the ulnar nerve.

Your physician will recommend conservative treatment options initially to treat the cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms unless muscle wasting or nerve damage is present. Conservative treatment options may include wearing a brace or splint at night while sleeping to keep the elbow in a straight position. You can also wrap the arm loosely with a towel and apply tape to hold in place. If conservative treatment options fail to resolve the condition or if muscle wasting or severe nerve compression is present, Dr. Patel may recommend you undergo a surgical procedure to treat cubital tunnel syndrome.

Surgical Treatment

Typically, Dr. Patel will recommend an ulnar nerve decompressiom in-situ. Dr. Patel will make an incision over the medial epicondyle. The cubital tunnel is cut open through the soft tissue roof exposing the ulnar nerve.  The nerve is then protected and decompressed from the surrounding tissue both above and below this level. The incision is then closed with sutures and covered with a dressing.