Ulnar Nerve Entrapment

Ulnar Nerve Entrapment Overview

Ulnar nerve entrapment or cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve is entrapped in the area where it passes through the elbow bone. A tissue tunnel known as the cubital tunnel presses against the nerve and causes symptoms in the ring and little fingers. Patients who experience symptoms should make an appointment with a Carolina Orthopaedic and Neurosurgical Associates’ (CONA) elbow specialist as soon as possible.

Symptoms & Causes

Ulnar nerve entrapment symptoms include:

  • Elbow pain
  • Forearm pain
  • Tingling and numbness
  • Hand weakness *in severe cases

Common ulnar nerve entrapment causes include:

  • A direct ball to the elbow
  • A direct fall on the elbow
  • Elbow joint fluid buildup

Prolonged elbow bending (sleeping with the elbow bent, leaning on the elbow)

Common Treatments:

Nonsurgical treatment options treat the majority of ulnar nerve entrapment cases. After a thorough evaluation, a CONA elbow specialist may recommend:

  • Activity modification
  • Anti-inflammatory medications
  • Bracing
  • Elbow pads
  • Physical therapy
  • Towel or pillow wrapping

A CONA specialist may recommend surgery when symptoms do not respond to nonsurgical treatment. During a cubital tunnel release, a CONA specialist releases the trapped tendon and symptoms are quickly relieved.


A CONA elbow specialist:

  • Obtains a detailed history that includes symptoms, medical conditions, activities and prior injuries
  • Thoroughly examines the arm
  • Orders x-rays to check for elbow deformities

In some cases, a nerve conduction study (NCS) is performed to confirm a diagnosis

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