Have you ever felt that “funny bone” feeling from banging your elbow? Do you notice you get that feeling when your elbow is bent while driving or holding the phone? If you’re experiencing that feeling throughout the day or waking up at night with a numb ring finger or pinkie, you may be experiencing ulnar nerve neuropathy. At Hand In Hand Rehabilitation, our occupational therapists can help identify the root cause of your problems and help you find solutions that work!
The ulnar nerve travels from your shoulder to your ring and pinky fingers. The nerve passes under the bony bump on the inner aspect of the elbow (i.e., medial epicondyle). The nerve is relatively unprotected as it travels through this tunnel (i.e., cubital tunnel) and can be compressed between your bone and the skin.
Pressure and/or injury to the ulnar nerve results in pain, tingling, or numbness in one or both hands. When you hit the ulnar nerve, we describe it as hitting our “funny bone.” Hitting the nerve sends sensations of tingling, numbness, burning, and/or pain down the inside of your arm to the ring and little fingers.
If these symptoms persist or occur without hitting the nerve, you could benefit from having our occupational therapists at Hand In Hand Rehabilitation assess your condition and help you find relief.
Call today to request an appointment with one of our specialists!
What are the common causes and risk factors of ulnar neuropathy?
Ulnar neuropathy is often the result of prolonged stretching or pressure on the nerve itself. When the arm is bent for a long time, the ulnar nerve is in a sustained, stretched position, creating tension, which decreases the blood flow to the nerve and causes nerve irritation.
Compression on the nerve happens when you lean your elbow/arm against a table or due to repetitive movements in a bent position, such as prolonged work on a computer. The key is identifying what you are doing at the time of your symptoms or what you did right before you noticed your symptoms.
Persistent pain and tingling in the arm can disrupt our normal daily activities, including household chores, work responsibilities, and even sleep. For some, waiting too long leads to more severe problems like weakness and loss of function in the affected hand.
The key to finding lasting relief is identifying what patients are doing when their symptoms start or immediately before noticing the symptoms by zeroing in on the activities or positions that provoke them.
The most common risk factors include:
- Being over 40 years old
- Overhead throwing activities
- Work that involves prolonged elbow flexion or resting elbows on a hard surface (i.e., computer work)
Symptoms can sometimes be associated with other conditions, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, and can be aggravated by alcoholism and smoking. Our occupational therapists at Hand In Hand Rehabilitation can help identify the solutions regardless of the cause, so you can get back to doing what you enjoy most!
What to expect at your Hand In Hand Rehabilitation occupational therapy visits
Fortunately, there are ways to treat ulnar neuropathy without surgery. Our occupational therapist at Hand In Hand Rehabilitation will perform a comprehensive evaluation to determine the activities that bring on your symptoms.
In more advanced and persistent cases, your occupational therapist will modify your activity and recommend you use a splint to take the pressure off the nerve. The most common types of slings include:
- Custom splints: These will be fabricated to ensure proper fit and function. They are primarily used to provide support, protection, pain relief, and function/mobility.
- Elbow blocking: These splints use a strap behind your elbow to keep your elbow straight.
- Elbow pads: These are the regular elbow pads that you can buy at any sporting goods store. Instead of wearing the pad on the back, it is moved to the front of the elbow, preventing the elbow from bending and thereby alleviating pressure on the nerve.
As your condition improves, your therapist may teach you:
- Range-of-motion exercises. Targeted exercises to restore mobility of muscles that may have shortened due to protective positioning.
- Strengthening exercises. Improving strength in the surrounding muscles can help reduce pain and improve or restore function.
- Nerve gliding exercises. You can mobilize the nerve to promote blood flow and healing.
Our occupational therapist will listen to your concerns and teach you ways to avoid positions that compress or put a prolonged stretch on the ulnar nerve. Our goal is to resolve your condition and prevent further re-injury.
Call today to request an appointment!
Our therapists are experts at treating nerve-related injuries at Hand In Hand Rehabilitation. We have proven success with using splints to help resolve ulnar neuropathy.
Call today to request an appointment with one of our specialists and see if an ulnar nerve sprint is right for you!