Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition caused by increased pressure on or stretch of the ulnar nerve that passes behind the elbow (also causes the “funny bone” sensation). People commonly notice it when sleeping or when holding the phone—any activity where the elbow is in a bent position for long period of time.

The University of Michigan hand surgery team specializes in the treatment of cubital tunnel syndrome, from mild to severe. Our goal is to restore comfort and function as soon as possible with minimal impact on the patient’s quality of life.

Symptoms of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Common signs and symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:

  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Pain
  • Weakness of the hand

Numbness and tingling are commonly felt in the ring and small fingers. 

Diagnosis of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

A thorough physical examination and discussion of the patient’s medical history, including current and past conditions, prior injuries and symptoms, will help diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome.

Depending on the examination of the patient’s hands and arms, additional diagnostic tests may be needed to confirm the presence and extent of cubital tunnel syndrome. These include:

  • Electrodiagnostic nerve studies (EMG)
  • Laboratory tests
  • X-rays

Treatment of Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Treatment will depend on the severity of symptoms, which may be relieved without surgery. 

There are several non-surgical treatment options that may help relieve symptoms and reduce the chance of causing long-term damage to the ulnar nerve. These include:

  • Avoiding activities that put pressure on the ulnar nerve and cause symptoms
  • Wrapping a towel or pillow loosely around the front of the elbow to help prevent numbness while sleeping

When symptoms are severe or do not improve, outpatient surgery may be necessary to relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve. There are multiple options, including:

  • Releasing the nerve (in situ decompression)
  • Move the nerve to the front of the elbow (transposition of the nerve)

Hand Therapy and Rehabilitation for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Therapy for cubital tunnel syndrome is recommended in some cases. It is provided on site at the University of Michigan’s Hand Program by our team of occupational and physical therapists under the direction of a trained hand therapist. Referrals to local providers can be arranged closer to home as a more convenient option for patients.

The ultimate goal of therapy and rehabilitation is the restoration and optimization of hand function, renewed independence and improved overall quality of life. We offer treatment plans that are tailored to fit each patient’s condition, living and work requirements:

  • Non-surgical option. Our hand therapists help patients find ways to avoid putting pressure on the ulnar nerve. 
  • Post-operative rehabilitation. To help patients as they recover from surgical procedures.

Contact Us / Make an Appointment

If you are considering treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome, the University of Michigan hand surgeons will guide you, from consultation to recovery, to the best treatment options for your individual needs. Our hand surgeons have dual appointments in Orthopaedic and Plastic Surgery with a specialization in Hand. Patients may be seen in the Orthopaedic Clinic or the Plastic Surgery clinic for treatment of hand conditions.

  • Orthopaedic Call Center, 734-998-6541
  • Plastic Surgery Hand Call Center, 734-998-6022

The University of Michigan Hand Program

Our team of specialists at the University of Michigan Hand Program is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for a variety of hand problems. From arthritis injuries, to congenital hand conditions, to the most complex reconstruction, our hand specialists approach each case individually, with a specific plan designed to maximize the restoration of both form and function. Depending on the types of hand conditions our patients face, our physicians will help determine the best therapies or procedures to maximize hand functionality and normal hand appearances. Visit the University of Michigan Hand Program page to learn more about the program and to contact our hand specialists.