What is Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome?

Ulnar tunnel syndrome is a condition that affects the wrist. It occurs when the ulnar nerve is compressed.

The ulnar nerve is one of the three main nerves of the arm, running from the neck down into the hand. When pressure on this nerve occurs in the wrist, it can cause numbness and tingling sensation in the little finger and along the outside of the ring finger. And since the ulnar nerve plays a role in some hand movements and function, its compression can also lead to hand weakness.

Ulnar tunnel syndrome can happen as a result of a ganglion (a lump filled with fluid) on the joint of the wrist. It can also occur as a result of repetitive trauma or injury on the hand. People who lift weights, into cycling, and have jobs that require the use of vibrating tools are at risk of developing ulnar tunnel syndrome.

Symptoms of Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome

The symptoms of ulnar tunnel syndrome develop over time. The most common symptoms are numbness and tingling in the little and ring finger. These symptoms can be worse in the morning. When left unmanaged, this condition can eventually lead to pain in the wrist and fingers and gradual loss of hand dexterity and grasp.

Diagnosing Ulnar Tunnel Syndrome

To diagnose ulnar tunnel syndrome, the doctor has to do a thorough physical exam. He/she will examine the hand for common signs and symptoms of the syndrome which include muscle atrophy and muscle weakness. In order to rule out other possible causes of the tingling sensation, the doctor will tap the ulnar nerve.

Because the ulnar nerve also travels through the elbow, the doctor may also examine the elbow. Oftentimes, when pressure is applied over the ulnar nerve at the elbow, hand symptoms occur.

Additional tests such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scan may be required to determine what puts pressure on the nerve.

How It Is Treated

There are nonsurgical and surgical treatment options for ulnar tunnel syndrome.

Nonsurgical Treatment

If the compression of the nerve is a result of repetitive use or palmar pressure, activity modification will be recommended. The use of a wrist brace and anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen may also be suggested to provide symptoms relief.

Surgical Treatment

If symptoms persist even with the nonsurgical treatment options, surgery may be recommended by the doctor. The goal of the surgery is to release the pressure.

If the cause of the pressure is a cyst or scar tissue, then the procedure would involve removing it.