Open Accessibility Menu

How Leaning on Your Elbow Can Cause Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

  • Category: Blog
  • Posted On:

Women Holding Wrist in Pain

Are you experiencing hand numbness and tingling? When you notice a funny sensation of pins and needles in your little finger and half of your ring finger, your first thought might be that you have carpal tunnel syndrome. While you’re on the right track that something is off, carpal tunnel syndrome is another type of nerve entrapment and has distinct symptoms.

If you’re noticing that you feel like you’ve smacked your “funny bone” and can’t shake off the feeling, you likely have compression of the ulnar nerve, which runs through a narrow tunnel-like structure called the cubital tunnel, at the elbow. What you have heard called the “funny bone” is, in fact, the ulnar nerve. You’ve likely accidentally hit your ulnar nerve at felt the intense tingling and pain sensations in the elbow.

What Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome happens when the ulnar nerve is compressed or irritated, which limits its function of facilitating communication between the brain and your hand. The ulnar nerve also provides sensation to half of the ring finger and the little fingers. When you have cubital tunnel syndrome, it can be more difficult to manipulate objects with your affected hand, including grip weakness. If left untreated, severe or long-term ulnar nerve compression can lead to irreversible muscle wasting.

Why Does Leaning on a Bent Elbow Cause Hand Numbness?

It may seem strange that nerve compression in your elbow is to blame for symptoms in your hand. The reason why nerve compression in the elbow results in hand numbness is because the ulnar nerve travels through the elbow and through the little finger and half of the ring finger. One of the most common causes of cubital tunnel syndrome, when a cause can be identified, is keeping the elbow bent at 90 or more degrees for long periods. Prolonged leaning on the elbow can compress and irritate the ulnar nerve, especially for office workers who rest their head in one hand while sitting at a computer.

There are other reasons you could have cubital tunnel syndrome, including elbow fractures, dislocation, bone spurs or swelling, or having a chronic health condition like diabetes.

Ease Up on Your Elbow

The good news is that early treatment of cubital tunnel syndrome can reverse it completely, especially if you find you frequently rest on a bent elbow.

Fortunately, most people with cubital tunnel syndrome recover without invasive treatment or the need for surgery. Most people see dramatic improvement by avoiding elbow flexion or wearing an elbow splint at night to prevent bending the elbow in your sleep. You may want to make other modifications, such as avoiding resting your elbow on armrests or using a headset instead of holding your phone while making phone calls. Over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like ibuprofen may reduce swelling around the nerve.

Surgery for cubital tunnel syndrome is reserved only for severe cases where patients cannot achieve substantial relief from nonsurgical treatments. The goal of treatment is to prevent cubital tunnel syndrome progression.

At Fox Valley Orthopedics, our goal is to help you live pain-free. If you have been noticing numbness and tingling of your little and ring fingers, don’t put off getting help. Call (630) 584-1400 today to schedule your appointment.