Carpal tunnel syndrome is a compression of the median nerve in the wrist, which can cause pain to radiate to the elbow. It can cause pain and tingling in the fingers, which may radiate to the forearm and elbow.

However, if a person is experiencing elbow pain, they may also have cubital tunnel syndrome. Cubital tunnel syndrome is the compression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow.

A person can have carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome at the same time.

This article examines carpal tunnel and elbow pain, treatments, and when to contact a doctor.

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Carpal tunnel syndrome can cause elbow pain. It occurs due to the compression of the median nerve as it enters a narrow passageway in the wrist, composed of ligament and bones. The median nerve is one of the main nerves in the arm. It controls the movement and sensation of the hand.

A person with carpal tunnel syndrome can develop pain that radiates up the forearm to the elbow and toward the shoulder.

Treating carpal tunnel syndrome may help relieve symptoms such as elbow pain.

Nonsurgical treatments may be enough to resolve symptoms in the condition’s early stages. This can include:

  • wearing a brace or splint to keep the wrist straight
  • making changes to activities that worsen symptoms
  • getting steroid injections into the carpal tunnel
  • doing nerve gliding exercises to stretch a compressed nerve

If nonsurgical treatments are ineffective, people may require surgery to release pressure on the median nerve.

Home treatment

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), including ibuprofen and naproxen, may help to relieve pain and reduce inflammation.

Other home treatments may include:

  • taking regular breaks to rest the hand, particularly during repetitive movements
  • reducing repetitive movements
  • applying an ice pack to areas of pain
  • using tools and furniture that support the hands

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a compression of the ulnar nerve at the elbow.

The ulnar nerve is a major nerve in the arm which runs from the neck to the hand. Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause elbow pain along with numbness, tingling, and weakness in the hand.

Can a person have cubital and carpal tunnel syndrome at the same time?

It is possible to have both carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndrome at the same time.

According to a 2018 study, most people who undergo treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome also require treatment for carpal tunnel syndrome and have signs of both conditions.

Carpal tunnel syndrome may occur more in people with cubital tunnel syndrome compared to those without. People with ulnar nerve compression may also have median nerve compression.

People may be able to tell the difference between cubital tunnel and carpal tunnel through the symptoms they experience and when they occur.

Symptoms of carpal tunnel can include:

  • numbness, tingling, pain, burning, or shock-like sensation in the index, middle, ring fingers and thumb
  • pain that radiates up the forearm
  • difficulty using the hands due to weakness

Cubital tunnel syndrome can cause pain in the inner elbow but mostly affects the hand. People may experience numbness or tingling in the little and ring finger. They can also develop weakness in the hand or fingers.

Symptom comparison table

Below is a table comparing symptoms of carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndrome:

Carpal tunnel syndromeCubital tunnel syndrome
Elbow painThe pain originates in the wrist and hand and may radiate to the elbow.A person may feel an aching pain in the inner elbow.
SensationsA person may experience:
• numbness
• weakness
• pain
• tingling, burning, or shock-like sensations
A person may experience:
• numbness
• tingling
• pain
• weakness
Affected fingersSymptoms can affect the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers.Symptoms may affect the ring and little finger
Time of painThe pain may occur at night or with bent wrists, such as when holding a phone.The pain may occur at night or with bent elbows, such as driving.
GripThe weakness may cause people to drop things or difficulty with precise movements.The weakness in the hand or fingers can make it difficult to hold things or coordinate the fingers.

To diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome, doctors may carry out the following:

  • physical exam of the hand, wrist, arm, neck, and shoulder
  • x-rays
  • laboratory tests to check for other underlying issues
  • nerve conduction study to measure electrical impulses of the nerves
  • electromyography to test nerve and muscle function
  • ultrasound to check for swelling of the median nerve

People with carpal tunnel or cubital tunnel syndrome symptoms can contact a doctor.

Without treatment, carpal tunnel syndrome can gradually worsen over time. Getting a diagnosis and treatment in the early stages of the condition may help prevent it from progressing or causing long-term damage.

It is important to talk with a doctor for severe symptoms of cubital tunnel syndrome or if symptoms continue for longer than 6 weeks. Treatment can help prevent severe complications, such as muscle wasting.

The following are commonly asked questions about carpal tunnel syndrome and cubital tunnel syndrome.

How can a person tell the difference between carpal tunnel and tendonitis?

Tendonitis is an inflammation of a tendon. It causes pain and tenderness near a joint. The pain may worsen with movement and ease with rest.

Carpal tunnel causes pain, tingling, and numbness and mostly affects the fingers and thumbs.

What happens if a person does not get treatment for cubital tunnel syndrome?

Without treatment, cubital tunnel syndrome may lead to muscle wasting. This may occur if there is severe or long-term nerve compression. Muscle wasting is irreversible.

Carpal tunnel syndrome affects the fingers, but pain may radiate up the forearm and people may feel elbow pain.

People can contact a doctor if they think elbow pain is due to carpal tunnel. Early treatment may help prevent the condition from progressing.