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Physical Therapy for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome – Information, Exercises, and More

Cubital tunnel syndrome, or ulnar neuropathy, typically comes with severe pain and discomfort that can feel unmanageable. 

Are you wondering if physical therapy, exercise, or other conventional treatments are available to help?

You’re in luck. 

We understand how important it is to live a life free of pain. With our help, you can find relief. 

In this guide, we’ll be discussing everything you need to know about cubital tunnel syndrome and ways to ease the burden of the pain and discomfort that accompanies it.

What is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a condition where your ulnar nerve (one of the three main nerves of the arm) becomes compressed. The ulnar nerve travels from your neck down to your hand.

It can occur when the ulnar nerve becomes:

  • Stretched
  • Inflamed
  • Injured
  • Swollen 
  • Or irritated 

The pain caused by cubital tunnel syndrome is similar to the pain you feel when you hit your “funny bone” because it affects the same nerve along your elbow

The difference is that when you hit your funny bone, the feeling fades. When diagnosed with cubital tunnel syndrome, the feeling may always be present. 

Cubital tunnel syndrome is often confused with carpal tunnel syndrome which occurs in the wrist and typically affects the thumb, index finger, and long finger.

What Causes Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Some causes of cubital tunnel syndrome include: 

  • Bending the elbow over 90 degrees for extended periods of time
  • Prolonged leaning on the elbow
  • Diabetes
  • Joint damage from arthritis — although uncommon in the elbow
  • Bone spurs
  • Previous fractures or dislocations of the elbow
  • Fluid retention during pregnancy

To diagnose cubital tunnel syndrome, your doctor will most likely order a physical exam, followed by a nerve conduction study or an electromyogram to identify where the nerve is being compressed.

To detect visible signs of compression, your doctor may order x-rays.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Symptoms

Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome present differently in every person. Some of the most common symptoms people experience are: 

  • Numbness in the hand, ring finger or little finger — especially when your elbow is bent
  • Hand pain
  • Weak grip
  • Loss of sensation
  • Clumsiness due to muscle weakness
  • Aches on side of the elbow
  • Difficulty bending or straightening fingers

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Treatment

Depending on the severity, there are several cubital tunnel syndrome treatment options (both surgical and non-surgical) available.

These treatments can help resolve symptoms and reduce the chances of long-term damage to the ulnar nerve. 

Non-Surgical Treatments

Cubital tunnel syndrome treatment without surgery is possible. Non-surgical treatments include: 

  • Resting the arm and elbow frequently
  • Cold compresses several times a day on the affected area
  • Pain relievers — over-the-counter medicines or prescribed nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs) 
  • Bracing or splinting affected area splinting
  • Hand physical therapy

Cubital tunnel syndrome treatment at home involves: 

  • Wearing elbow pads during the day
  • Avoiding activities requiring you to bend your arm for extended periods of time 
  • Keeping your arm straight at night
  • Wearing an elbow brace while sleeping

Surgical Treatments

When non-surgical treatments have failed to reduce or ease cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms, surgical treatment may be necessary. 

The primary objective of cubital tunnel surgery is to open up the cubital tunnel, making it larger, while decreasing the amount of pressure on the ulnar nerve. 

Two common types of cubital tunnel syndrome treatments are: 

Cubital Tunnel Release Surgery

This procedure involves cutting the tissue that covers the ulnar nerve, relieving pressure on the ulnar nerve as it passes behind the elbow. 

Cubital tunnel release surgery is an outpatient procedure that does not require an overnight stay in the hospital.

Ulnar Nerve Anterior Transposition Surgery

This cubital tunnel syndrome treatment is typically done when other non-surgical treatments or surgical treatments have failed to relieve the pressure on the ulnar nerve.

In this procedure, the ulnar nerve is moved to the front of the elbow — it may be placed directly under the skin or between two muscles.

After cubital tunnel release surgery, you may need to wear a brace for several weeks.

Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Physical Therapy – Will PT Help?

Yes, it can. 

In fact, one of the most common forms of cubital tunnel syndrome treatment is physical therapy

Although it’s easy to do a Google search and find exercises that you could benefit from, a physical therapist can help you develop a treatment plan that meets your specific needs. 

A physical therapist may:

  • Provide you with a brace to wear
  • Guide you through exercises that can help reduce the pressure and improve elbow function
  • Advise you on ways to relax your arm when you’re not using it

Best Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Exercises

Your physical therapist may show you several exercises and techniques to reduce the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome. These exercises include:

Nerve Guiding Techniques

One of the most commonly recommended exercises for cubital tunnel syndrome treatment involves learning nerve guiding techniques. 

These techniques help stretch the ulnar nerve and encourage movement in the cubital tunnel.  Along with these techniques, your therapist may incorporate segmental joint manipulation to help manage and alleviate symptoms. 

How In Motion O.C. Can Help With Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

In Motion O.C. is committed to helping patients find relief from their cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms. We’ve helped dozens of people going through the same thing as you. 

Our mission is to bring hope, healing, confidence, and joy to others. We want you to know that you’re not alone. 

We’re rated the number one physical therapist in the entire country on Yelp and Google. Our patients’ testimonials are proof that we believe in providing excellent care that gets results.

*This information about physical therapy for Cubital Tunnel Syndrome was reviewed by Dr Natalie Thomas, PT, DPT. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us here.

In Motion O.C.