About Ulnar Nerve Injury
The ulnar nerve extends the length of the arm, from the shoulder to the wrist. It is closest to the surface where it crosses the elbow. It is called entrapment when the ulnar nerve gets compressed where it passes through the narrow structure, called the cubital tunnel. When the ulnar nerve is compressed or damaged, there are neurological symptoms in the forearm and hand. The symptoms include:
- hand pain
- finger pain
- pain in the 4th and 5th digits
- tingling or burning in the 4th and 5th digits
- numbness or decreased sensation
- loss of muscle strength in hand
An ulnar nerve injury frequently occurs from an elbow fracture or dislocation sustained in a car accident, motorcycle accident, bicycle accident, or slip and fall accident. It can be diagnosed through an EMG (electromyogram), nerve conduction tests, blood tests, x-rays, or imaging scans.
Ulnar Nerve Injury Treatment
Conservative treatment is recommended for 6-12 weeks. Included in this approach are:
- supportive splint or elbow pad
- corticosteroid injection (to reduce swelling and pressure on nerve)
- pain medication (prescription or over-the-counter)
- physical therapy
If there is increasing muscle weakness, progressive palsy, or clawing of the 4th and 5th digits; then surgery needs to be performed before the nerve dies and motor skills are permanently lost. In severe cases, the patient may need occupational therapy, job retraining, or vocational counseling.
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