Cubital tunnel syndrome (or ulnar neuropathy) is characterized by the presence of pain on the medial edge (inside) of the elbow. It is particularly common in overhead throwing athletes due to the stress forces that throwing places on the elbow. Sports such as waterpolo, baseball, cricket and tennis can cause the syndrome. There are also many occupations which predispose people to cubital tunnel syndrome – repeated elbow bending in activities such as working on a computer, answering a telephone and hairdressers using hairdryers etc.
Many athletes report that they did not experience a trauma to the elbow, but tend to experience intermittent burning and slight numbness of the 4th and 5th fingers. They may also experience weakness of the whole hand on that side. They find that their symptoms resolve if they have a break from the sport, or work and receive physiotherapy treatment.
Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs because the nerve that passes through the cubital fossa (a notch in the ulna) gets compressed. It often causes wasting of the muscles of the hand and reduced sensation of the 4th and 5th digits. More severe symptoms associated with the condition are a reduced ability to pinch the thumb and little finger and a claw-like deformity of the hand.
If a patient has any of the above symptoms, a physiotherapist or doctor may recommend that the patient undergoes a nerve conduction study. This investigation involves using electrodes on the skin to measure the health of muscles and nerve cells that control them to determine the severity of the condition.
Once the condition has been confirmed as cubital tunnel syndrome, one will often be advised to visit a physiotherapist who will perform many techniques, including cervical (neck) and thoracic mobilizations, neural mobilizations, soft tissue (muscle) release, electrotherapy and exercise therapy.