Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome
Ulnar tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects the wrist. It happens when the ulnar nerve is compressed going from the wrist into the hand through a space referred to as Guyon’s canal. You may have weakness, tingling, numbness, or pain because of the nerve compression.
The ulnar nerve is a large nerve that runs from your neck to your hand. It’s responsible for some hand movements and function. Bones and muscles don’t protect the ulnar nerve, though, so injuries are common. When you “hit your funny bone” or experience a feeling of shock after hitting your elbow that pain comes from the ulnar nerve.
HAND & WRIST ANATOMY
The symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome can take time to develop and they can also get progressively worse over time.
Common symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome affecting the hand, wrist, and little finger include:
Numbness, especially in the little and ring fingers
Tingling, especially in the little and ring finger
Inability to do daily tasks such as typing
Problems holding things with the affected hand
Hand and fingers forming a “claw”
A ganglion, which is a lump filled with fluid, can form on the joint of the wrist and cause ulnar tunnel syndrome. Ganglions are a type of benign (noncancerous) cyst.
Ulnar tunnel syndrome can also be caused by repetitive trauma or pressure to the hand. Participating in certain exercise activities, such as cycling and weightlifting, can create this type of pressure. Some jobs that require using tools that vibrate can also lead to ulnar tunnel syndrome.
You’re more likely to develop ulnar tunnel syndrome if you:
Work with vibrating tools
Have hand trauma
Do tasks with repetitive pressure on the hands
Cycle or lift weights
Since many ulnar tunnel syndrome cases are caused by ganglions or cysts, surgery is necessary to remove them and treat the condition. However, other causes of ulnar tunnel syndrome may be treated with nonsurgical options.
Nonsurgical options are safer, faster, and easier, but they may not be as effective. Talk to your doctor to determine the best treatment option for your ulnar tunnel syndrome.
The nonsurgical options for treating ulnar tunnel syndrome involve identifying what’s causing the pressure or trauma in your hand or wrist. You may need to switch to ergonomic and padded tools or other objects. You may also need to change jobs, eliminate vibrating tools, and hold your wrists in a different way.
Physical, occupational, and massage therapies may help relieve symptoms. Over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription pain relievers or anti-inflammatory drugs may also help. Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections for temporary relief. You may also benefit from wearing a splint or wrist brace.
Surgery is necessary to remove the ganglion or cyst that’s causing the pressure on your wrist. Scars and other growths may also need to be removed if they cause ulnar tunnel syndrome. Another option is to use surgery to relieve the pressure in the wrist by cutting a ligament.
After the surgery, you should feel relief. The tingling, pain, and numbness should disappear. However, it may take several months for your ulnar nerve to heal completely. You’ll need to do rehabilitation therapy and specific exercises during the recovery process. Your doctor can give you more information about the rehab exercises that are right for you.
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