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Ulnar nerve dysfunction

Neuropathy - ulnar nerve; Ulnar nerve palsy; Mononeuropathy; Cubital tunnel syndrome

Ulnar nerve dysfunction is a problem with the nerve that travels from the shoulder to the hand, called the ulnar nerve. It helps you move your arm, wrist, and hand.

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Ulnar nerve damage

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Causes

Damage to one nerve group, such as the ulnar nerve, is called mononeuropathy. Mononeuropathy means there is damage to a single nerve. Diseases affecting the entire body (systemic disorders) can also cause isolated nerve damage.

Causes of mononeuropathy include:

Ulnar neuropathy is also common in those with diabetes.

Ulnar neuropathy occurs when there is damage to the ulnar nerve. This nerve travels down the arm to the wrist, hand, and ring and little fingers. It passes near the surface of the elbow. So, bumping the nerve there causes the pain and tingling of "hitting the funny bone."

When the nerve compressed in the elbow, a problem called cubital tunnel syndrome may result.

When damage destroys the nerve covering (myelin sheath) or part of the nerve itself, nerve signaling is slowed or prevented.

Damage to the ulnar nerve can be caused by:

In some cases, no cause can be found.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include any of the following:

Pain or numbness may awaken you from sleep. Activities such as tennis or golf may make the condition worse.

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will examine you and ask about your symptoms and medical history. You may be asked what you were doing before the symptoms started.

Tests that may be needed include:

Treatment

The goal of treatment is to allow you to use the hand and arm as much as possible. Your provider will find and treat the cause, if possible. Sometimes, no treatment is needed and you will get better on your own.

If medicines are needed, they may include:

Your provider will likely suggest self-care measures. These may include:

Occupational therapy or counseling to suggest changes in the workplace may be needed.

Surgery to relieve pressure on the nerve may help if the symptoms get worse, or if there is proof that part of the nerve is wasting away.

Outlook (Prognosis)

If the cause of the nerve dysfunction can be found and successfully treated, there is a good chance of a full recovery. In some cases, there may be partial or complete loss of movement or sensation.

Possible Complications

Complications may include:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you have an arm injury and develop numbness, tingling, pain, or weakness down your forearm and the ring and little fingers.

Prevention

Avoid prolonged pressure on the elbow or palm. Avoid prolonged or repeated elbow bending. Casts, splints, and other appliances should always be examined for proper fit.

Related Information

Peripheral neuropathy
Mononeuropathy
Systemic
Multiple mononeuropathy
Myelin
Broken bone
Dislocation

References

Craig A. Neuropathies. In: Cifu DX, ed. Braddom's Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 41.

Jobe MT, Martinez SF. Peripheral nerve injuries. In: Azar FM, Beaty JH, Canale ST, eds. Campbell's Operative Orthopaedics. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 62.

Mackinnon SE, Novak CB. Compression neuropathies. In: Wolfe SW, Hotchkiss RN, Pederson WC, Kozin SH, Cohen MS, eds. Green's Operative Hand Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 28.

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Review Date: 4/30/2018  

Reviewed By: Amit M. Shelat, DO, FACP, Attending Neurologist and Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, SUNY Stony Brook, School of Medicine, Stony Brook, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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