If you are having issues with your elbow, a surgery could help treat it.
What is ulnar nerve compression?
The ulnar nerve goes round the back of the inner side of your elbow (sometimes called your ‘funny bone’). It then goes through a tight tunnel between the forearm muscles. If the tunnel becomes too tight it can cause pressure on the nerve, usually resulting in numbness in your ring and little fingers.
What are the benefits of surgery?
The aim is to prevent further damage to the nerve. If you have the operation early enough, the numbness in your hand may get better.
Are there any alternatives to surgery?
If your symptoms are mild and happen mostly at night, a splint to hold your elbow straight while you are in bed often helps.
For many people it is best to have an operation to release the nerve to prevent permanent nerve damage.
What does the procedure involve?
Various anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes 30 to 45 minutes. Your surgeon will make a cut over the back of the inner side of your elbow. They will cut any tight tissue that is compressing the nerve. Your surgeon may need to remove a piece of bone, or move the nerve so that it lies in front of your elbow.
What complications can happen?
Like all surgical procedures, there are some levels of risks to consider. Some of these can be serious and can even cause death. However, you can speak to your doctor about the following general and specific complications that may worry you.
General complications of any operation
- Unsightly scarring of your skin
- Infection of the surgical site (wound)
Specific complications of this operation
- Continued numbness in your ring and little fingers
- Return of numbness caused by scar tissue that forms
- Numbness in a patch of skin just below the tip of your elbow
- Tenderness of the scar
- Severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of your arm
How soon will I recover?
You should be able to go home the same day. You may be told to rest your arm in a sling for a few days. It is important to gently exercise your fingers, elbow and shoulder to prevent stiffness. Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice. Your symptoms may continue to improve for up to 18 months.
Ulnar nerve compression causes numbness in your ring and little fingers. An ulnar nerve release may improve your symptoms and should prevent permanent nerve damage. To find out more, call us on 0808 101 0337.
Author: Prof Tim Davis ChM FRCS (Tr. & Orth.)