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Ulnar tunnel syndrome is a common disorder that can result from a variety of causes and can lead to ulnar nerve dysfunction and difficulties with the sensation and functioning of the hand and fingers and pain in the forearm and hand.
Ulnar tunnel syndrome can be the result of trauma or long-term compression of the ulnar nerve, a peripheral nerve that runs down the length of the arm. The functions of the ulnar nerve are to transmit sensations from the little and ring fingers to the spinal cord and to control movements of many small muscles of the hand and some larger muscles in the forearm. The ulnar nerve is frequently called the "funny bone". A minor blow to the elbow can cause temporary numbness and tingling down the arm and into the hand and little and ring fingers. This is commonly referred to as "hitting the funny bone".
A serious blow or other major trauma, such as elbow fracture or elbow dislocation, can cause ulnar tunnel syndrome, due to inflammation and swelling of the ligament that surrounds the ulnar nerve. This compresses the ulnar nerve where it passes through the narrow elbow area. This can lead to ongoing numbness and tingling down the arm and into the hand and little and ring fingers.
In addition, repetitive stress injury can cause ulnar tunnel syndrome. Certain activities and occupations, such as factory line work and carpentry that cause repetitive motion of the arm or elbow can lead to swelling of the ligament that surrounds the ulnar nerve and compression of the nerve. Other causes of ulnar carpal syndrome include arthritis of the elbow.
Ulnar tunnel syndrome can lead to sensations of pain, numbness, weakness and/or tingling of the hand, certain fingers, and possibly the forearm. More severe permanent complications may also occur. For additional symptoms and complications, refer to symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome.
Making a diagnosis of ulnar tunnel syndrome begins with taking a thorough medical history, including symptoms and the types of activities a person is performing that may lead to the disorder. A physical and neurological examination that focuses on the fingers, hands, wrists, elbows and arms is also done. This includes having the patient perform certain hand and arm movements to see if they result in pain or numbness and to test arm, hand and grip strength.
Diagnostic testing may include special tests that test the nerves and muscles. These include an electromyogram (EMG), which tests the nerve and electrical activity of muscles, and a nerve conduction velocity test, which identifies how fast nerves conduct electrical impulses.
Medical testing may also include tests that can help determine any underlying medical disease or conditions that may be causing ulnar tunnel syndrome. These include an elbow or wrist X-ray, which can reveal elbow fracture or arthritis. Imaging scans, such as CT and MRI may also be performed.
It is possible that a diagnosis of ulnar tunnel syndrome can be missed or delayed because symptoms may be mild or similar to symptoms of other diseases and conditions, such as arthritis. For more information about diseases and disorders that can mimic ulnar tunnel syndrome, refer to misdiagnosis of ulnar tunnel syndrome.
Treatment for ulnar tunnel syndrome varies depending on the severity of symptoms, the presence of complications, a person's age and medical history, and the type of work and activities a person does. Treatment can reduce or eliminate symptoms and permanent complications, such as muscle wasting. Treatment options include modifying activities, medication, occupational therapy and surgery. For more information on treatment, refer to treatment of ulnar tunnel syndrome. ...more »
The types and severity of symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome vary between individuals. Symptoms may include abnormal sensations, pain, weakness, burning, numbness, pins and needles, and/or tingling of the ring and little fingers. There may also be pain and weakness in the hand and the grip. Pain may be worse at night. Certain activities, such as tennis, can make ...more symptoms »
With early recognition and treatment, it is possible to reverse the symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome before permanent damage occurs in many cases. The first step in treatment is prevention of the disorder. The most successful treatment and prevention plans use a multipronged approach aimed at relieving pressure and compression of the ulnar nerve and damage to the elbow.
This includes ...more treatments »
A diagnosis of ulnar tunnel syndrome may be delayed or missed because early symptoms, such as hand weakness, pain and tingling often develop slowly over weeks or months. In addition, symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome can be similar to symptoms of other conditions. These include aging, arthritis, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome. Ulnar tunnel syndrome can occur ...more misdiagnosis »
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