One of the main nerves in the arm, the ulnar nerve runs from the neck to the hand. At various points along this path, the nerve can become irritated or compressed, causing tingling in the elbow, wrist, hand or fingers. If you experience tingling in your pinky and ring finger or weakness in your hand when you try to grip something, if you get that “funny bone” feeling in your elbow when you hold the telephone to your ear, you may be suffering from ulnar nerve entrapment.
Pressure on the ulnar nerve can result from injury, such as a direct blow to the inside of the elbow; leaning on your elbows for long periods of time; sleeping with your arm in a bent position; or performing activities that require repeated bending of the elbow.
Initially, symptoms may come and go. But if they worsen or persist beyond eight weeks, you should see your physician. Untreated nerve compression can lead to irreversible deterioration of the arm muscles.
In your condition’s early stages, your physician will probably recommend conservative treatment. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce inflammation around the nerve. Wearing a brace when you sleep to keep the elbow straight may help. For mild to moderate symptoms, identifying and avoiding positions that aggravate the nerve can help. Physical therapy may also help.
Should conservative treatment prove unsuccessful, surgery may be necessary to relieve the pressure on the nerve. Surgical outcomes are generally positive, but when a nerve is involved, some symptoms may linger or take much longer to resolve.
After surgery, you will wear a splint for a few weeks. Your doctor may recommend physical therapy to regain strength in the hand, forearm and elbow areas. We can design an effective treatment plan that includes exercises to increase flexibility and strengthen areas that may have stiffened after surgery. We may also recommend behavior modifications, such as using a speakerphone or headset instead of holding the phone to your ear or adjusting the height of your chair to ease pressure on the wrist at the computer keyboard, that can help keep your ulnar nerve healthy and pain-free.
If you regularly get that tingly feeling in your arm or hand, come see us. We can recommend a course of action that may bring you relief.