Surgical Information - Procedure

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Surgery

What are the surgical options for cubital tunnel syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve at the elbow becomes compressed or irritated. Increased pressure disturbs the way the nerve works, causing numbness or pain in the elbow, hand, wrist or fingers.

There are several surgical options for patients with cubital tunnel syndrome. A consultation with your orthopaedic surgeon can help determine the best one for you. Procedures include:

  • Decompress the nerve by releasing the structures that are compressing it and allow its function to recover over time.
  • Shifting the nerve to the front of the elbow to relieve pressure
  • Moving the nerve under a layer of fat, under the muscle or within the muscle
  • Trimming the medial epicondyle (the bony bump at the inner portion of the elbow)

The choice of procedure depends on individual factors such as symptom severity, medical history and your overall health.

Anatomy

The ulnar nerve passes across the back of the elbow, behind the medial epicondyle on the inner side of the upper arm bone. The spot where the corner of the ulnar nerve makes a bend around the elbow is commonly called the "funny bone." Hitting the elbow at this spot gives a brief feeling of shock or tingling.

When is surgery recommended?

Mild cases of cubital tunnel syndrome often respond to non-operative treatments such as wearing an elbow pad to protect the elbow during the day; wearing a splint to keep the elbow straight at night; and physical therapy to learn how to avoid putting pressure on the ulnar nerve.

If these conservative measures fail to alleviate symptoms, surgery may be necessary.

What is the recovery time?

Recovery varies by patient and the surgical procedure involved. There are usually restrictions on lifting and elbow movement, and most patients undergo physical therapy to rebuild strength in the hand and wrist. Although numbness may quickly improve, full functional recovery may take several months. In severe cases, surgery may not completely resolve cubital tunnel symptoms.

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