Similar to “hitting your funny bone.” Tingling and/or numbness are felt in the ring and little fingers, as well as along the inside of the forearm. Pain may be felt in the same area. Weakness of the intrinsic muscles of the hand which will affect grip strength can also occur and in severe cases the weakness may also affect the wrist and forearm. Symptoms are felt with either repetitive bending of the elbow or if the elbow is pressed against something.
The ulna nerve sits very close to the humerus bone in the elbow and there is very little padding between the nerve and the skin. This makes it susceptible to being compressed when pressure is applied to that area. The nerve also slides over the bony bump or medial epicondyle that it sits next to in some people when they bend there elbow and this can cause repetitive irritation of the nerve. Squashing or irritation of the nerve will cause the symptoms described above.
Non-Surgical treatment is often successful especially if started early. Physical therapy will involve soft tissue techniques to reduce local adhesions and muscle tightness along with specific “nerve glides” to restore mobility of the ulna nerve as it passes around the elbow. Rest from aggravating activities is important. A pad over the elbow to prevent friction or a night-splint to prevent prolonged bending of the elbow might help. Anti-Inflammatory medications are often useful to decrease irritation. If a 4 week treatment regime is not successful then surgery may be indicated. Surgery would involve either an ulna nerve transposition where the nerve is moved away from the bony medial epicondyle or a medial epiconylectomy-removal of the bone to free up nerve movement. Therapy is needed post-surgery to restore elbow mobility, wrist/finger strength and prevent adhesions. Desensitization of the scar may also be needed.