Elbow Problems & Treatments

 

Cubital tunnel syndrome is a set of symptoms that may occur if the ulnar nerve in your elbow gets pinched. This may happen if you bend or lean on your elbows often.

 

Your Cubital Tunnel

The cubital tunnel is a groove in a bone near your elbow. This narrow groove provides a passage for the ulnar nerve, one of the main nerves in your arm. The ulnar nerve can cause "funny bone" pain if your elbow gets bumped. Your cubital tunnel helps protect this nerve as it passes through your elbow and down to your fingers.

Compressing the Ulnar Nerve

Bending your elbow compresses the ulnar nerve inside the cubital tunnel. The nerve can get inflamed (irritated) after constant bending and pinching or after getting hurt. Over time, this can lead to pain or numbness. The pain is often felt in your ring and little fingers.

Bending your elbow as you hold a phone can cause problems over time.

Bending your elbow as you hold a phone can cause problems over time.

What Are Its Symptoms?

  • Numbness or tingling in ring and little fingers

  • Loss of finger or hand strength

  • Inability to straighten fingers

  • Sharp, sudden pain when elbow is touched

The Road to Healing

You can keep cubital tunnel syndrome from flaring up. Avoid pinching the ulnar nerve by keeping your arm straight as much as you can, even while sleeping. And use phone headsets and elbow pads. If you still have pain, tell your doctor.

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Repeated twisting of a screwdriver can cause problems over time.

Repeated twisting of a screwdriver can cause problems over time.

Tennis elbow (also called lateral epicondylitis) is an inflammation around the bony knob (lateral epicondyle) on the outer side of the elbow. It occurs when the tissue that attaches muscle to the bone becomes irritated.

Your Lateral Epicondyle

The muscles that allow you to straighten your fingers and rotate your lower arm and wrist are called the extensor muscles. These muscles extend from the outer side of your elbow to your wrist and fingers. A cordlike fiber called atendon attaches the extensor muscles to the elbow. Overuse or an accident can cause tissue in the tendon to become inflamed or injured.

Causes

Playing a racket sport can cause tennis elbow. So can doing anything that involves extending your wrist or rotating your forearm-such as twisting a screwdriver or lifting heavy objects with your palm down. With age, the tissue may become inflamed more easily.

Symptoms

The most common symptom of tennis elbow is pain on the outer side of the elbow and down the forearm. You may have pain all the time or only when you lift things. The elbow may also swell, get red, or feel warm to the touch. And it may hurt to grip things, turn your hand, or swing your arm.

The Road to Healing

To prevent a flare-up after treatment, you may need to change the way you do some things. Gripping with the palm up, lifting heavy objects with both hands, or varying activities throughout the day will help reduce stress on the tendon.

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Your treatment will depend on how inflamed your tendon is. The goal is to relieve your symptoms and help you regain full use of your elbow.

Rest and Medication

Wearing a tennis elbow splint allows the inflamed tendon to rest, so it can heal. Using your other hand or changing your grip also helps take stress off the tendon. And oral anti-inflammatory medications and heat or ice can relieve pain and reduce swelling.

Exercises and Therapy

Your doctor may give you an exercise program, or refer you to a therapist, to gently stretch and then strengthen the muscles around your elbow.

Anti-Inflammatory Injections

Your doctor may give you injections of an anti-inflammatory, such as cortisone, to help reduce the swelling. You may have more pain at first, but in a few days your elbow should feel better.

If Surgery Is Needed

If your symptoms persist for a long time, or other treatments don't relieve them, your doctor may recommend surgery to repair the inflamed tendon.