Physical Therapy for Nerve Damage in Elbow

Georgia Hand, Shoulder, and Elbow

Nerve damage in the elbow is usually caused by cubital tunnel syndrome. This article will discuss how cubital tunnel syndrome is diagnosed and how a physical therapist can help.

If you need a physical therapist to help treat nerve damage in your elbow, contact our orthopedic experts at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow. We have physicians on call for emergency consultation. Contact our office in Marietta or Atlanta, Georgia today for quality rehabilitation treatments you can trust!


What Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

Ulnar nerve entrapment at the elbow is called cubital tunnel syndrome. Your ulnar nerve runs from your neck and down your arm until the pinky and ring fingers.

At your elbow, the ulnar nerve passes through a tunnel made of muscles, ligaments, and bone called the cubital tunnel. Pressure on the cubital tunnel can cause ulnar nerve compression.

What Causes Ulnar Nerve Entrapment at the Elbow?

Ulnar nerve entrapment occurs when there is pressure on the cubital tunnel. Every time you bend your elbow, your ulnar nerve will be stretched as it slides behind the tiny bump on your funny bone, called the medial epicondyle.

Simply bending your elbow can apply 20 times more pressure on the ulnar nerve. Therefore, repetitive pulling, lifting, or reaching can all put pressure on the ulnar nerve.

Other causes of ulnar nerve irritation include the following:

  • Injury to your elbow
  • Leaning on your elbow for long periods, such as at your desk or a car window
  • Talking on the phone for long periods with a bent elbow
  • Arthritis in your elbow
  • Bone spurs in your elbow
  • Previous fractures or dislocations

How Do I Know if I Have Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

There are several symptoms related to cubital tunnel syndrome. If you have any of the following symptoms, you may have cubital tunnel syndrome:

  • A numb or tingling sensation in your hand and/or ring and small finger, especially when your elbow is bent
  • Muscle weakness in your arm and hand affecting your grip and movements
  • Hand pain
  • Aching pain on the inside of your elbow
  • Advanced cases may cause muscle wasting in your arm or hand

These symptoms are not limited to cubital tunnel syndrome and may indicate other medical conditions, such as medial epicondylitis, also known as golfer’s elbow. You should seek the help of a professional healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis.

How Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Diagnosed?

You will usually begin the diagnosis process by discussing your medical history and allowing the doctor to perform a physical exam. Further diagnostic tests may include the following:

  • Nerve conduction study — This diagnostic method measures how fast nerve signals travel down your nerve. It will reveal whether the nerve has been compressed.
  • Electromyogram (EMG) — An EMG can be used to check your nerve and muscle function within the forearm. If there is a loss of function, there may be a problem with the ulnar nerve that controls this area.
  • X-ray — This imaging test will be able to detect the presence of rheumatoid arthritis or bone spurs in your elbow.

How to Treat Cubital Tunnel Syndrome

In most cases, stopping the activity that is causing the problem will be enough to reduce the symptoms. You could also try the following to treat cubital tunnel syndrome:

  • Stopping any activity that causes pain, such as bending the elbow
  • Using a splint or foam elbow brace at night to limit arm movement and reduce irritation
  • Protect your elbow from hard surfaces by using an elbow pad
  • Non-steroid anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

A physical therapist can help you with nerve gliding exercises. Nerve gliding, also known as nerve flossing or neural gliding, is an exercise technique that physical therapists prescribe to improve the way your nerves move and reduce pain.

If these treatments do not work, or you have more severe symptoms, you may need to consider the following treatments:

What Can I Do to Prevent Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?

There are a few things that you can do to prevent cubital tunnel syndrome. The following list states some things that you can try:

  • Maintain strength and flexibility in your arms
  • Avoid resting your elbows on hard surfaces.
  • Warm up your arm muscles before exercising or performing other repetitive movements.

Get the Help You Need Today!

If you need a physical therapist to help treat nerve damage in your elbow, contact our orthopedic experts at Georgia Hand, Shoulder & Elbow. We have 2 convenient locations in Georgia to serve you. Schedule your appointment in Atlanta or Marietta today to get the results you’re looking for!

Medically reviewed by

Randall Alexander, MD

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Plastic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon

Hand & Orthopaedic Surgeon