What is ulnar nerve release surgery?
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 (see figure 1).
What will happen during my ulnar nerve release consultation?
When you meet with your consultant surgeon they'll ensure that you have the opportunity to ask any questions you may have about your ulnar nerve release, they'll discuss with you what'll happen before, during and after the procedure and any pain you might have. Take this time with your consultant surgeon to ensure your mind is put at rest.
Ulnar nerve compression (also called cubital tunnel syndrome) is a condition where there is increased pressure on the ulnar nerve, usually resulting in numbness in your ring and little fingers. Ulnar nerve release surgery aims to resolve this.
What are the benefits of this surgery?
Ulnar nerve release surgery helps 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 ulnar nerve release 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.
In many cases, it is best to have ulnar nerve release surgery to release the nerve to prevent permanent nerve damage.
What will happen during my operation?
A variety of anaesthetic techniques are possible. The operation usually takes between half an hour and three-quarters of an hour.
Your surgeon will make a cut over the back of your elbow on the inner side. They will cut any tight tissue that is compressing the nerve.
Sometimes your surgeon will need to remove a piece of bone, or move the nerve so that it lies in front of the elbow.
What complications can happen?
General complications of any operation:
- Infection of the surgical site (wound)
- Unsightly scarring
Specific complications of this operation:
- Continued numbness in your ring and little fingers
- Return of numbness
- Numbness in a patch of skin just below the tip of your elbow
- Severe pain, stiffness and loss of use of the arm (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome)
How soon will I recover?
Following Ulnar nerve release surgery you should be able to go home the same day.
You should keep your arm lifted up for the first couple of 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, you should ask a member of the healthcare team or your GP for advice.
Your symptoms may continue to improve for up to six months.