Ulnar Nerve Syndrome

Ulnar nerve syndrome, also known as cubital tunnel syndrome, is caused by pressure on the ulnar nerve as it travels down the back of the arm and into the hand through the cubital tunnel, a canal behind the bony bump on the inside of the elbow (the “funny bone”). The nerve can become pinched and damaged.

What’s in this section?

Signs and Symptoms

Common symptoms of ulnar nerve syndrome include:

  • Numbness or tingling in the ring and small fingers of the affected hand
  • Weakness or tenderness in the hand
  • Sensitivity in the hand and fingers, especially to cold temperatures
  • Tenderness of the elbow

With time, it can lead to weakness and muscle damage in the hand, which can result in a weakened or reduced grip, difficulty using the hand and pain that may wake a patient at night. Symptoms are commonly made worse when the elbow is bent for a long time.


Other conditions can cause the same symptoms, so it is important to check with your doctor for an accurate diagnosis. Only a doctor experienced in recognizing the exact combination of symptoms that indicate ulnar nerve syndrome can make a firm diagnosis.

Diagnosis of ulnar nerve syndrome starts with a physical exam and medical history. Other procedures and tests may be needed to diagnose this condition, including electromyogram , nerve conduction studies , magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and ultrasound .

Treatment options

There are different treatment options depending on the severity of your ulnar nerve syndrome:

  • Occupational therapy 
  • Medication
  • Splints or braces
  • Cubital tunnel release surgery.  This procedure is performed when a patient with ulnar nerve syndrome is not getting better with nonsurgical treatments such as medication, therapy and bracing. Cubital tunnel release surgery is performed through a small (about three-inch) incision on the elbow. The nerve is released, moved or partially removed depending on your situation. This does not cause any instability in the elbow. The skin is then closed with stitches that will need to be removed in about two weeks. The surgery often takes less than an hour. It can be done with mild sedation and numbing medicine or under general anesthesia.

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