Cubital tunnel syndrome causes pain and numbness. Chiropractic and massage care can be helpful treatments for this condition.
What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
While carpal tunnel syndrome is a more well-known condition, radial tunnel and cubital tunnel syndromes share some similarities. Carpal tunnel syndrome happens when there is pressure on the median nerve of the wrist, radial tunnel syndrome is when there is pressure on the radial nerve, while cubital tunnel has pressure on the ulnar nerve. With cubital tunnel syndrome there is muscle weakness, pain, tingling, and numbness in the arms and hands. It is a nerve compression syndrome, also called “ulnar neuropathy”. When the ulnar nerve, which is around the “funny bone”, gets too much pressure, such as from leaning on the elbow or bending the elbow too long, certain physical activities (i.e., pitching in baseball, playing guitar), or even abnormal elbow bone growth, the patient can have tingling in the ring and pinky fingers, elbow pain, and numbness. In severe cases, there can be weakness in the outer fingers, decreased hand grip and ability to pinch, muscle wasting, or a “claw-like deformity”.1
A doctor can diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome by EMG or physical examination. Conservative treatment options include changing how the elbow is used. Patients can learn not to put their elbows on hard surfaces, or they may even wear an elbow pad. Some may have to wear a splint at night to keep their elbow straight. In severe cases, or if the symptoms don’t subside, some doctors will recommend surgery. In surgery, the doctor may shift the nerve so that it is to the front of the elbow. The nerve may be placed under or within the muscle, or under a layer of fat. Surgeons may trim the bony bump on the inner elbow, or “medial epicondyle”. After surgery, patients will need to restrict movement and receive therapy. Recovery may take months, and surgery holds no guarantees of resolving the cubital tunnel syndrome permanently.2
Chiropractic and Massage Care
Cubital tunnel syndrome, the “second most common entrapment neuropathy”, can respond to conservative care. Many patients get this disorder from work-related issues. Working at computers (with the elbows constantly on a hard surface), and truck driving (with elbows flexed for too long), are two such examples. Other people who may get cubital tunnel syndrome are those with osteoarthritis, which can cause a “bony overgrowth”. In rheumatoid arthritis, inflammation can impact the ulnar nerve.3 Chiropractors can help patients by teaching them proper movements and exercises. A chiropractor may recommend taking frequent breaks, stretching and performing self-massage, making sure that the patient has proper alignment of the shoulders, neck, and elbows, and suggesting weight training, proper nutrition, and supplements. Massage therapists can also help relieve the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. Massage can flush out toxins and relax the muscles.4 Compression can be improved with techniques such as “deep stripping to the flexor carpi ulnaris”.5
Learn more about radial tunnel and carpal tunnel syndromes and treatments.