Cubital tunnel syndrome exercises may help restore your mobility and relieve pain. Also known as ulnar nerve compression, cubital tunnel syndrome can affect your ability to move your hands and fingers. If left unaddressed, this condition may lead to nerve-related problems.
What Is Cubital Tunnel Syndrome?
Most people are familiar with the kind of pain and tingling that occurs when hitting the "funny bone" in the elbow. Now imagine living with these symptoms for weeks or even months.
The so-called funny bone is actually a nerve that connects the small muscles in your hand, explains the Cleveland Clinic. Without the ulnar nerve, you wouldn't be able to feel your ring and middle fingers or hold objects in your hand.
This nerve enters the cubital tunnel, a narrow space in your elbow, as it travels to the elbow joint. Repetitive movements, injuries, previous fractures, bone spurs and certain health conditions may gradually compress the ulnar nerve and cause cubital tunnel syndrome. In rare cases, this condition is due to arthritis.
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Cubital tunnel syndrome may also result from daily habits, such as sleeping with the elbow bent. Fluid retention during pregnancy is a common risk factor, according to Oxford University Hospitals. Keeping the elbow bent for a long time may worsen your symptoms.
In addition to pain in the arm, hand or fingers, you may experience numbness and tingling. Over time, your grip may become weaker. Most symptoms are non-specific and mimic those of other conditions, notes the University of Rochester. For example, you may think it's golfer's elbow, a condition that causes pain and tenderness on the inner side of the elbow.
Get Appropriate Treatment
Without proper treatment, cubital tunnel syndrome may lead to numbness, weakness and other nerve-related problems, warns the Mayo Clinic. Most cases require adequate rest and over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drugs. Avoid keeping the elbow bent while you sleep or work at your office. Elbow pads and braces may help too.
If your symptoms persist, it's recommended to see a doctor. This is particularly important for those who experience numbness, tingling or muscle atrophy, which are signs of nerve-related issues.
Unfortunately, if you have cubital tunnel syndrome, ice or heat are unlikely to make a difference. However, you can do certain exercises to improve your range of motion and prevent further damage to the ulnar nerve.
According to the University of Rochester, ulnar nerve gliding exercises for cubital tunnel syndrome are an integral part of the treatment process. At the same time, it's important to stop the activity that worsens your symptoms. If, say, your pain becomes more intense when you do dumbbell curls, avoid this exercise for a while.
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In severe cases, doctors may recommend steroid injections or surgery. However, activity modification combined with stretching and strengthening exercises should provide some relief. The Cleveland Clinic also recommends avoiding prolonged sitting in a low chair at your desk, keeping the elbow bent on armrests or leaning on it for a long time.
Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Exercises
If you suspect you have this condition, consider reaching out to a physical therapist. He or she can identify the cause of your symptoms and design a cubital tunnel syndrome workout that fits your needs.
Generally, cubital tunnel syndrome exercises can be safely performed at home. The advantage of working with a physiotherapist is that you'll learn how to execute them properly.
Orthopedic surgeon Levi Harrison, MD, recommends several exercises that may help improve your symptoms. Here is an example:
Move #1: Flexing/Extending the Elbow
- Stand up straight or sit on a chair.
- Extend your arm in front of you. Keep your palm up and your fingers relaxed.
- Flex your elbow up and down so that your hand nearly touches your ear.
- Lower your forearm and repeat several times.
You may also try the ulnar nerve-gliding exercises for cubital tunnel syndrome, as recommended by the Metro North Hospital and Health Service. This series of movements may help reduce ulnar nerve pressure and ease the pain.
Oxford University Hospitals describes a simple exercise designed to improve elbow mobility. Simply follow these steps:
Move #2: Elbow Range of Movement Exercise
- Stand up with your arms at your sides. If you experience discomfort, you may sit on a chair.
- Make a fist with your hand while keeping your elbow still.
- Raise your arm by flexing the elbow.
- Unclench your fingers so that your palm is facing the ceiling.
- Turn your palm down to face the floor.
- Repeat three to five times two or three times per day.
Perform these exercises with a slow, controlled motion. Stop if you experience pain. For best results, stretch your arms several times a day and practice deep breathing. Consider wrapping a towel around your elbow to keep it straight while you sleep, advises the American Society for Surgery of the Hand.
Is This an Emergency?
- Cleveland Clinic: "Why Cubital Tunnel Syndrome Is No Laughing Matter"
- Oxford University Hospitals: "Cubital Tunnel Syndrome"
- University of Rochester: "Cubital Tunnel Syndrome"
- Mayo Clinic: "Golfer's Elbow"
- Mayo Clinic: "Ulnar Nerve/Cubital Tunnel"
- YouTube: "Cubital Tunnel Syndrome: Exercises & Treatment"
- Metro North Hospital and Health Service: "Ulnar Nerve Gliding Exercises"
- American Society for Surgery of the Hand: "Advice From a Certified Hand Therapist on Cubital Tunnel Syndrome"