Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: Causes, Signs, Treatments, & Exercises

Medically Reviewed by Caroline Duncan, MD
By Shaheen Naser

An unexplained shooting pain from the elbow to the little finger when you try to lift even small objects might indicate cubital tunnel syndrome. It is often caused due to the compressed ulnar nerve. Cubital tunnel syndrome treatment majorly involves movement restrictions to avoid further pain. Read on to know more about this syndrome, available treatments, and a few remedies which work effectively.

What Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a medical condition that can cause numbness or tingling in the ring and small fingers, pain in your forearm, or even weakness in the hand. It is also referred to as ulnar neuropathy.

This condition is a result of pressure on or stretching of the ulnar nerve (also referred to as the funny bone nerve). The ulnar nerve is located in a groove called the cubital tunnel that runs along the inner side of the elbow.

Listed below are the main causes responsible for causing cubital tunnel syndrome.

What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Factors that could be triggering cubital tunnel syndrome include:

  • Pressure on the ulnar nerve from leaning the arm on a hand rest or other similar events
  • Leaving your elbow bent for a long duration
  • Stretching of the ulnar nerve due to a bent elbow
  • Repeated snapping of the ulnar nerve while moving the elbow

Individuals affected by cubital tunnel syndrome may experience the following signs and symptoms.

Signs And Symptoms

  • Weakness in the hand
  • Weakness or soreness in the forearm
  • Numbness (loss of sensation), tingling, pain, or ‘pins and needles’ sensation in the little and pinky fingers

All these symptoms usually occur when the elbow has been kept bent for a long time.

It is highly recommended that you avail treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome at the earliest before its symptoms turn severe and give rise to complications. Hence, it is important to get yourself diagnosed.

[ Read: 15 Physical Therapy Exercises For Tennis Elbows ]

How Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

The doctor will ask you about the symptoms you have been experiencing. The main diagnosis is usually made right after the signs are noted and a physical examination is carried out. Radiography and electromyography can help in diagnosing cubital tunnel syndrome (1).

In some cases, you may also be tested for other medical conditions like diabetes or thyroid disease.

Nerve testing may also be carried out to find out how much the nerves and muscles have been affected due to the syndrome. This testing can also help identify a pinched nerve in the neck, which causes similar symptoms.

If you have been diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, one of the first steps you must take is to avoid any action that can aggravate your symptoms.

The common medical treatments that can be availed for treating this condition are discussed below.

Medical Treatments

Your doctor may ask you to wear a brace or splint to prevent the elbow from bending any further. You may also be asked to visit a hand therapist to find ways that can help you avoid exerting pressure on the ulnar nerve.

If the affected person exhibits severe symptoms, surgery may be suggested to relieve any pressure on the nerve. The surgery is intended to release the nerve, move the nerve to the front of your elbow, or even remove a part of the bone (2).

You can also give the natural remedies listed below a shot to manage the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome.

How To Treat Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Naturally

1. Massage Therapy

Massage therapy for cubital tunnel syndrome

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Massage therapy can be great for those affected by cubital tunnel syndrome. Muscle hypertonicity is one of the causes of this condition, and thus, a self or professional massage of the inner triceps may help in managing the symptoms of the syndrome.

[ Read: 14 Body Massage Oils And Their Benefits ]

2. Hot Or Cold Compress

Hot or cold compress for cubital tunnel syndrome

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You Will Need

A cold or hot compress

What You Have To Do
  1. Take a hot/cold compress and apply it to the affected area.
  2. Place it there for 5-10 minutes.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this multiple times daily.

Why This Works

Cold packs can help numb the pain in the affected area and also facilitate healing. Similarly, hot compresses can improve blood flow in the affected area, thereby alleviating pain and speeding up recovery (3), (4).

3. Essential Oils

a. Peppermint Oil

Peppermint oil for cubital tunnel syndrome

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You Will Need
  • 2-3 drops of peppermint oil
  • 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
What You Have To Do
  1. Add two to three drops of peppermint oil to one to two teaspoons of coconut oil or any other carrier oil.
  2. Mix well and apply it to the affected area.
  3. Leave it on until it dries.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this 2-3 times daily until you notice an improvement in your condition.

Why This Works

Menthol, the active component of peppermint oil, has analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties. Hence, the topical application of peppermint oil can alleviate the frequency as well as the degree of pain in the affected muscles (5).

b. Lavender Oil

Lavender oil for cubital tunnel syndrome

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You Will Need
  • 2-3 drops of lavender oil
  • 2 teaspoons of coconut oil
What You Have To Do
  1. Add two to three drops of lavender oil to one to two teaspoons of coconut oil.
  2. Mix the ingredients well and apply the blend to the affected area.
  3. Leave it on until it dries.
How Often You Should Do This

You can do this multiple times daily.

Why This Works

Lavender oil possesses analgesic and anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the pain and soreness associated with cubital tunnel syndrome (6).

4. Vitamins

Vitamins for cubital tunnel syndrome

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Vitamins B6 and C may help in alleviating the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. Supplementation with these vitamins exhibited a positive impact on those suffering from carpal tunnel syndrome, which is similar to cubital tunnel syndrome but affects the median nerve in the wrist (7).

Hence, these vitamins could also work similarly for the latter condition. However, it is recommended that you consult a doctor before taking any additional supplements.

[ Read: Top 10 Vitamin B6 Rich Foods ]

5. Acupuncture

Acupuncture to treat cubital tunnel syndrome

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Acupuncture is a type of alternative medicine that can help in the treatment of various medical issues. It involves inserting very thin needles at specific points through the skin. It can also help improve the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome as well as electrophysiological functions (8).

In addition to these remedies, some exercises may also help in the treatment of cubital tunnel syndrome.

Exercises For Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

Certain nerve gliding exercises for the arm and hand may benefit those affected by cubital tunnel syndrome. They include:

  1. Elbow bend
  2. Elbow flexion and wrist extension
  3. Head tilt
  4. A-OK
  5. Arm flexion in front of the body

To know how to do these exercises, click here.

Cubital tunnel syndrome is an ulnar nerve compression at the elbow. People with this condition may experience unexplained pain from the elbow to the little finger. Repeated snapping and pressure on the ulnar nerve may cause this syndrome. However, you can treat cubital tunnel syndrome naturally. Using massage therapy, hot or cold compress, essential oils, vitamins, and acupuncture, may improve its symptoms. In addition, doing some exercises like elbow bend, head tilt, elbow flexion, and wrist extension may help treat this problem. However, consult your doctor before opting for any alternative medicine.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can the cubital tunnel go away on its own?

Yes, cubital tunnel syndrome may go away on its own if you stop the activities that are causing it. However, it is best to consult a doctor instead of waiting for it to go away.

What kind of doctor should I see for cubital tunnel syndrome?

You can consult an orthopedist to get treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome. It will be better if you see someone who specializes in elbows and wrists.

Does a neurologist treat cubital tunnel syndrome?

Yes, a neurologist can also treat cubital tunnel syndrome.

Do compression sleeves help cubital tunnel?

Yes, compression sleeves can help cubital tunnel syndrome by providing external support and aiding circulation in the area.

Key Takeaways

  • Cubital tunnel syndrome is characterized by weakness in the forearm and numbness, tingling, or shooting pain in the ring and small fingers.
  • It must be treated at the earliest to prevent further complications. Your doctor may prescribe a brace or a splint to restrict the elbow movement.
  • If the symptoms turn severe, you may have to undergo surgery to relieve pressure on the ulnar nerve.
  • This condition may also be treated naturally through massage therapy and exercises.

References

  1. Cubital tunnel syndrome: Anatomy, clinical presentation, and management.” Journal of Orthopaedics, US National Library of Medicine.
  2. Cubital tunnel syndrome” Postgraduate Medical Journal, US National Library of Medicine.
  3. Mechanisms and efficacy of heat and cold therapies for musculoskeletal injury.” Postgraduate Medical Journal, US National Library of Medicine.
  4. Cold and compression in the management of musculoskeletal injuries and orthopedic operative procedures: a narrative review” Open Access Journal of Sports Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
  5. Comparison of the Effect of Topical Application of Rosemary and Menthol for Musculoskeletal Pain in Hemodialysis Patients” Iranian Journal of Nursing and Midwifery Research, US National Library of Medicine.
  6. Antioxidant, analgesic and anti-inflammatory effects of lavender essential oil.” Annals of the Brazilian Academy of Sciences, US National Library of Medicine.
  7. Vitamin B6, vitamin C, and carpal tunnel syndrome. A cross-sectional study of 441 adults.” Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, US National Library of Medicine.
  8. Assessment of Acupuncture and Moxibustion Effects on the Electrophysiological Properties of the Ulnar Nerve: A Nerve Conduction Study” Integrative Medicine International, KARGER.
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author
Shaheen holds a postgraduate degree in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology. She is a Geneticist with proficiency in Biotechnology, Immunology,... more

Caroline Duncan

(M.D)
Caroline C. Duncan graduated from the Medical University of South Carolina in May of 2017, where her interests were primarily... more

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