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Trapped ulnar nerve

Find out about this condition, why it happens and how it can be treated.

A trapped nerve occurs when surrounding tissues – for example, bones, muscles or tendons – apply too much pressure to a nerve, pinching it.

The ulnar nerve is part of your nervous system, and it goes down your arm to into your hand. It transmits electrical signals to parts of your forearm and hands.

When you have a pinched nerve in your elbow, it can limit your motions, and create feelings of discomfort.

Ulnar nerve damage can occur when the nerve is over-stretched or has too much pressure applied to it. This can happen if your elbow is fully bent for a long period of time, or it is pushed against a hard surface.

It is also possible for the ulnar nerve to shift out of its correct position and rub on the bone in the elbow. This can also cause injury to the nerve.

If you have a compressed ulnar nerve, you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Pain in the elbow, or feelings of tenderness around the area
  • Feeling like your “funny bone” has been hit and
  • Weakness or tingling in your hands and fingers of your affected arm.

When you meet with your doctor, they will discuss your elbow pain in depth. This will help them reach an accurate diagnosis. They might ask:

  • Does your pain have an obvious cause or trigger, or did it appear without warning?
  • Have you ever had a similar type of pain in your elbow?
  • Have you had a previous injury to your elbow?
  • Do you have any other symptoms (even if they’re seemingly unrelated to your elbow pain)?

Your doctor will probably carry out an electromyography (EMG) and a nerve conduction study (NCS), so they can see how well your nerves are functioning.

Depending on your symptoms, other diagnostic tests might be used to rule out other causes of your elbow pain. These tests include an elbow X-Ray, an ultrasound or an MRI. Your doctor will explain these tests to you if they are needed.

We treat patients of all ages and all backgrounds, ranging from elite sportspeople to those who want to improve their day-to-day quality of life.

We have an expert team on site to support your treatment, including physiotherapists, sports and exercise consultants, radiologists, neurologists and more, to make sure your recovery is as fast, effective and convenient as possible.

If you are coming to us directly (rather than via GP or insurance referral), we offer very competitively priced self-pay packages, along with payment plan options to help make private healthcare accessible and affordable for all.

There are a few different ways a trapped ulnar nerve can be treated.

Non-surgical treatment

Your doctor might recommend you wear an arm split, to provide stability to your elbow as it heals.

They also might suggest using painkillers such as ibuprofen to suppress your symptoms. This should reduce inflammation and pain in your elbow.

Physiotherapy

According to the National Institute of Health Research, physiotherapy services are an important way to prevent and reduce the negative impacts of musculoskeletal conditions, improving patients’ lives.

Our physiotherapists can work with you to create a programme of exercises that will help your elbow to get back to normal. Starting off gently, these physical therapies will help to build strength and restore motion to your arm.

Your physical therapist will recommend strengthening exercises for you to do several times a day. It is important to follow your exercise regime diligently to reap its benefits.

Learn more about physiotherapy and elbow pain exercises here. 

Surgery

If non-surgical treatments have not been effective in treating your ulnar nerve, then your Consultant might recommend an operation.

During ulnar nerve surgery, your surgeon will make an incision at your elbow. They will then look at the ulnar nerve, and determine what is causing it to be compressed. The relevant tissue will be removed, and they might move the nerve back into a better position where it won’t be bothered by you bending your arm. The wound will then be stitched up.

Your recovery from ulnar nerve damage depends on your individual circumstances. It could take up to around six months for your symptoms to disappear, and in severe cases they might not completely go away. However, with help from our experts, they can be managed.

If you have had surgery, then you should be able to resume most of your usual activities within four to six weeks.

A trapped ulnar nerve can be frustrating and painful, but it’s important to know that good help is available. You are not alone.

Receiving care from an experienced Consultant at one of our local hospitals can help you to recover as quickly as possible. They will assess and diagnose your fracture and then discuss the treatment recommended for your specific situation.

To schedule your visit, book a specialist appointment online today. 

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