Ulnar nerve entrapment affects your ulnar nerve in your arm. Cubital tunnel syndrome occurs in your elbow, while Guyon’s canal syndrome affects your wrist. Overuse injuries, cysts and other problems can stretch or put pressure on the ulnar nerve. You may have hand and finger weakness, numbness, pain or tingling. At-home treatments can help.
Ulnar nerve entrapment is the most common ulnar nerve problem. Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when something puts pressure on your ulnar nerve in your elbow or wrist. Nerve entrapment is a type of nerve compression syndrome.
Compression (a pinched nerve) may lead to inflammation causing nerve (neuropathic) pain and neuropathy (nerve damage). In some cases, this may affect your grip strength, making it difficult for you to grasp items.
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Your ulnar nerve helps you bend and straighten your pinky and ring fingers so you can grasp items. The nerve also sends sensory information about touch, pain and temperature. If you bump your ulnar nerve in your elbow, you may experience a tingling “funny bone” sensation. Each arm has an ulnar nerve.
Ulnar nerve entrapment can occur at your elbow or wrist. Types include:
Cubital tunnel syndrome is the second-most common peripheral neuropathy that affects your upper limbs. (Carpal tunnel syndrome, a pinched median nerve in your wrist, is the most common.) Guyon’s canal syndrome is rare.
Activities that stretch your ulnar nerve at your elbow, or put a lot of pressure on your elbow, can lead to cubital tunnel syndrome. Sleeping with your elbows bent for long periods can cause or worsen symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment.
Ganglion cysts are noncancerous fluid-filled sacs that form near your wrist joint. These cysts cause up to 40% of Guyon’s canal syndrome. Another 45% of Guyon’s canal syndrome diagnoses occur for no apparent reason (idiopathic). Less commonly, cysts can also cause pressure on the ulnar nerve within your elbow.
Other causes of ulnar nerve entrapment and damage include:
Ulnar nerve entrapment affects more men than women. People who do jobs or activities that require a lot of elbow or wrist pressure or stretching are most at risk, such as:
Signs come on gradually and may come and go. Symptoms may get worse at night or when you do activities that stretch or put pressure on your elbow or wrist.
Symptoms of ulnar nerve entrapment and damage include:
Your healthcare provider may perform several tests during your physical exam to evaluate your symptoms. These tests seem simple, but they help your healthcare provider assess finger and hand strength. They include:
These tests can confirm or rule out ulnar nerve entrapment:
Nonsurgical treatments for ulnar nerve entrapment include:
If nonsurgical treatments don’t help, you may need surgery. Depending on the cause of the nerve entrapment, surgery can:
These steps can lower your risk of developing ulnar nerve entrapment, or ease symptoms:
Ulnar nerve entrapment in your elbow or wrist that’s severe can cause muscle loss in your hand. This damage may be permanent in some cases, which is why it’s important to see your healthcare provider early about symptoms.
About half of all people with ulnar nerve entrapment get symptom relief through nonsurgical means.
When needed, surgery may eliminate nerve pain and other symptoms. But for about 1 in 8 people with cubital tunnel syndrome, symptoms may return if the procedure doesn’t fully treat the underlying cause. There’s also a risk of surgical damage to your median nerve, ulnar artery or ligaments in your elbow or wrist.
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when something irritates or puts pressure on your ulnar nerve that runs down your arm. Cubital tunnel syndrome affects your ulnar nerve in your elbow. It’s the most common type of ulnar nerve entrapment. Guyon’s canal syndrome, which affects the nerve in your wrist, is a rare peripheral neuropathy. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience numbness, pain or tingling in your hands or fingers. You can take steps to prevent nerve damage.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/05/2022.
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