Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when the ulnar nerve or funny bone nerve is stretched, compressed, or irritated where it crosses the elbow. Exercises can help, but not all medical professionals agree on what exercises improve symptoms.

Symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome include:

  • numbness or tingling in the fingers, especially the ring and pinky fingers
  • pain or soreness along the forearm
  • weakness or soreness in the hand

The ulnar nerve extends from the neck down the back of the arm to the hand. In the inner aspect of the elbow, it runs along a small passageway called the cubital tunnel.

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs at the elbow and is also known as ulnar neuropathy.

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Cubital tunnel syndrome is caused by irritation or compression of the ulnar nerve.

There is no consensus on this question. Some health experts believe certain exercises that encourage the ulnar nerve to glide gently through the cubital and Guyon’s canals may improve symptoms.

The cubital canal is the small channel that the ulnar nerve runs through along the inside of the elbow. Guyon’s canal is where the ulnar nerve runs into the hand through the wrist.

Examples of nerve gliding exercises include:

Exercise 1

1. Extend the arm straight out in front of the body with a straightened elbow, as much as is comfortable, with the palm facing up.

2. Slowly and gently curl the fingers towards the palms then slowly and gently bend them down, away from the body.

3. Slowly and gently bend the elbow, as much as is comfortable, and then slowly release back.

Exercise 2

1. Extend the arm straight out in front of the body with a straightened elbow, as much as is comfortable, with the palm facing up.

2. Slowly and gently begin to bend the elbow towards the body while at the same time gently twisting the wrist backward, away from the body.

3. If steps 1 and 2 are comfortable, then keeping the wrist bent back, slowly and gently bend the elbow, as much as is comfortable, then slowly release it.

Exercise 3

1. Stand, sit, or lie down and extend the arm out straight alongside the body with a slightly clenched fist.

2. Slowly and gently bend the elbow, bringing the fist towards the body, as far as comfortable, and then slowly release.

Exercise 4

1. Stand with the elbow bent so that the forearm runs parallel to the body.

2. Slowly and gently twist the palms upwards to face the ceiling and then downwards to face the floor.

People should never hold the positions in cubital tunnel syndrome stretches or exercises.

However, they can repeat nerve gliding and range of movement exercises for cubital tunnel syndrome 2 to 5 times each a few times each day.

Doctors can sometimes recommend some range of movement exercises for people recovering from cubital tunnel syndrome surgery.

The ulnar nerve is also sometimes called the funny bone nerve. Where the ulnar nerve crosses the elbow, there is very little fat and subcutaneous tissue, meaning the nerve is closer to the surface of the skin and more sensitive. Hence, if a person hits their inner elbow, the sensation can resemble an electric shock.

Most people with cubital tunnel syndrome experience symptoms that may include:

  • numbness, pain, and weakness in the arm, forearm, and fingers
  • weakened or reduced grip
  • waking at night from pain or numbness in the hands or fingers, especially the pinky and ring fingers
  • difficulty bending and straightening the fingers
  • difficulty manipulating things with the hands or fingers
  • muscle loss at the base of the small fingers

The symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome usually get much worse when the elbow is bent for a long time or compressed.

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Frequently sitting with arms on armrests may cause cubital tunnel syndrome.

Several at-home treatments may provide some relief from the symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome.

Initially, the easiest way to get relief from cubital tunnel syndrome is to avoid actions that irritate the symptoms, such as:

  • sleeping with the elbow bent
  • holding a phone for a long time
  • typing for extended periods
  • holding a book or tablet up for a long time
  • sitting with the arms on an armrest for a long while
  • leaning on the elbow
  • driving for a long time
  • driving with the arm resting on an open window

Additional home treatment to try can include the following:

  • Rest the arm and elbow when possible.
  • Apply ice compresses wrapped in a cloth or towel to the area for 10 to 15 minutes several times daily.
  • Loosely wrap the impacted forearm with padding, such as a cloth, towel, or pillow, or wear an elbow split at night to prevent the elbow from bending.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) anti-inflammatory medications, such as aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or NSAIDs.
  • Adjust computer or writing workspaces so that the chair is not lower than the tabletop.
  • Wear an elbow pad during the day to give protection.
  • Avoid clothing or sports equipment that compresses or restricts the elbow.

For most cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, a doctor will prescribe a splint or padded elbow brace for people to wear at night.

Bracing

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People will usually require physical therapy after surgery.

Rigid nighttime bracing of the arm to keep it in a fixed position, together with moderating activity patterns, has been shown to help cubital tunnel syndrome.

A 2014 study found that wearing a rigid elbow brace at night for 3 months, and avoiding activities that could irritate the ulnar nerve during the day, resolved symptoms in 21 of the 24 cases included in the study.

Surgery

People whose symptoms are severe or last longer than 6 weeks should consult their doctor.

If symptoms are extreme, chronic, or do not respond to other forms of treatment, then surgery may be necessary.

Doctors may recommend surgery for people experiencing muscle loss or weakness in their hands because of cubital tunnel syndrome.

During surgery, a surgeon will expose the irritated, compressed, or stretched ulnar nerve and either release it, move it, or remove part of it.

It may take weeks to months to fully recover from surgery for cubital tunnel syndrome, and most people require physical therapy afterward.

In severe cases, people may continue to experience symptoms even after surgery. However, about 85 percent of people with severe nerve compression who do not respond well to other treatment options may benefit from cubital tunnel surgery.

Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs when there is pressure or strain on the ulnar nerve, also known as the funny bone nerve. Symptoms often include numbness, soreness, and weakness.

Treatment may be possible with home remedies and OTC medication, or surgery may be necessary. People with symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome should consult their doctor if they persist for more than a few weeks.